Menotti: Violin Concerto; Five Songs

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Menotti
LABELS: ASV
ALBUM TITLE: Menotti
WORKS: Violin Concerto; Five Songs
PERFORMER: Christine Brewer (soprano), Gillian Tingay (harp), Roger Vignoles (piano), Ittai Shapira (violin); Vanbrugh Quartet; Russian PO/Thomas Sanderling
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 1156
Menotti’s essentially lyrical style permeates his Violin Concerto, and finds a persuasive advocate in Ittai Shapira. His tone is fuller and deeper than Jennifer Koh’s, whose recording came out three years ago (Chandos, reviewed April 2002), and it’s matched by the sound of the warmly recorded, and tightly directed Russian orchestra, who make the echoes of Prokofiev in the faster music in the first movement transparently obvious. Shapira isn’t quite as nimble in these passages as Koh, or Ricci in his slightly older recording (Reference), but comes into his own in the richly romantic Adagio, where he displays a variety of rubato and colour which is most eloquent. And in the last movement he does find the virtuosity which slightly eluded him earlier.

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The Cantilena e Scherzo find the composer in his most passionate vein in the slow music, with the strings winding lush contrapuntal lines around the harp, though even Gillian Tingay can’t make much of the inconsequential cadenza that leads out of the scherzo. Most successful are the songs, where Menotti sets his own texts – or more likely, wrote words and music as a unit, so closely are they related. Brewer has the right warm sound, and her diction is excellent in both English and Italian (just as well, as texts aren’t provided). There may not be an intensely individual style here, but there’s musical refinement of the highest order. Martin Cotton