Robert Starer, Earl Kim: Violin Concertos. Itzhak Perlman, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa. EMI CDC 7 49328 2 (1988) barcode 077774932820
Recorded 27-28 April 1983, Symphony Hall, Boston. The LP was released in 1984.
Compiled in Itzhak Perlman The Complete Warner Recordings, 77 CDs Warner Classics 2564615069 (2015) barcode 825646150694, see listing on Discogs.com for details
Two Perlman commissions and two enjoyable contemporary violin concertos
Originally posted on Amazon.com, 14 February 2014
When I originally wrote this review, in September 2010, I didn’t find a listing for the CD on Amazon.com, although (or maybe: because) it had been published as long ago as 1988, and I had to post it under the entry for the original 1984 vinyl. Returning to it in 2014 I now chance on it. Thanks to whoever created the entry.
Earl Kim’s Violin Concerto (premiered by Perlman in 1979, Zubin Mehta conducting the New York Philharmonic) is one of the most appealing and original recent American violin concertos I’ve heard. From its very first notes its originality and seductiveness strike the ear: it starts with a long (3′) hushed orchestral introduction, a tapestry of violins playing softly in their upper harmonics – so softly that you can hear the traffic at a distance -, an effect appropriately likened by one critic to “the first, dim, auroral stirrings”. The violin enters softly, playing a wistful and brooding theme over soft punctuations of percussion. Then comes (at 4:13) a jagged, pointillistic episode, almost a Webern Klangfarben melody, then (6:25) a scurrying passage that has a coloristic lushness and sweep reminiscent of Britten, or Glass at his best (and really you might be in repetitive music, although not quite – and that very ambiguity is intriguing). The Concerto’s architecture is also quite original, in one continuous movement but in two parts, part one consisting of the introduction, two variations and two “Episodes” (the second being the cadenza), and the second of an Introduction, Episode and Finale (too bad they aren’t cued; but they are relatively easy to locate). That allows Kim to go through a variety of moods and even styles – not eschewing either the big, sentimental melody (14:40) over a hushed, shimmering “wave-like pattern in the strings” , making you think you are in a concerto of one of the Balts, Vasks or Pärt or Kancheli. But the Concerto never feels piecemeal: everything unfolds quite organically. Kim is a master at eliciting strange and fascinating instrumental colors and tunes; he himself describes the passage starting at 7:10 as a “delicate and tender Lento assai, which transforms the expressive content of the opening into a childhood fantasy of enchantment with brief hints of a lullaby”. Ensues the cadenza, which opens with an orchestral introduction in which you hear the horns in the distance belch out what sounds like dog barks. The Concerto has its more angular moments but is quite accessible and tonal, with shimmering colors reminiscent of Del Tredici’s Alice cycle, and it is this very attitude that I enjoyed: the hell with making music modern, let’s just make it beautiful; and the value of Kim’s Concerto is that he has, but unlike so many others, in a way that is very personal and original, not by re-hashing trite romantic gestures trodden and over-trodden by so many others. Kim, born in California of Korean parents in 1920, died in 1998.
Both Kim’s and Starer’s Concertos were commissions by Itzhak Perlman and were recorded in April 1983. Premiered in 1981 by the same forces as on this disc, Robert Starer’s Violin Concerto is also quite enjoyable, though less inventive and more predictable than Kim’s, with its dynamic but angular and grim outer movements (the finale interrupted by slower and more whimsical episodes) framing the customary slow movement. But not only are the fast movement very effective and the slow movement quite subtle in its orchestral coloring; the violin line (and sometimes the orchestra) also has a lyrical bent that I wasn’t used of hearing in other Concertos of Starer which I’ve just listened to, his Viola Concerto from 1958 (on Vox’ The American Composer series, “American Concertos”, VoxBox CDX 5158 – link will open new tab to my review) and his Cello Concerto from 1988 (on CRI CD 618, with Concertos of Richard Wernick and Richard Wilson), and it has also nice whimsical twists in the second and third movements – the composer describes them as “glissandos into the same note from above and from below” and says it is a technique from the Near-East, but it could be inspired by Chinese or Korean folk-music just as well). These features make the concerto stand out of the ordinary. Starer died in 2001 at 77.
Not surprisingly, at 44:40 TT is LP length. Short timing notwithstanding, this is an enjoyable disc, and shame on EMI for letting it slip out of its catalog and into oblivion.