WORKS: Violin Concerto
PERFORMER: Robert McDuffie (violin); Houston Symphony/Christoph Eschenbach
CATALOGUE NO: CD-80494
This appealing new disc interestingly contrasts the ways in which two leading American ‘minimalists’ have built upon the ruthless processes and repetition of their earlier works. For Adams (who never quite towed the minimalist party line in the first place) it means glittering textures of often quite dissonant harmony, intricate cross-rhythms, and a thoroughly engaging work. With Glass, on the other hand, we hear the same trademark triplet arpeggios, second inversion minor chords and sudden, weird shifts in harmony as many times before. Glass’s rather arrogant assertion in the well-written booklet notes – ‘The piece explores what an orchestra can do for me. I’m more interested in my own sound than the capabilities of particular instruments’ – proves stultifyingly accurate.
Robert McDuffie is an excellent advocate of both works, however, bringing pristine clarity and articulation to performances that are never lacking in drama. His highly characterful playing adds warmth to the glacial world of Adams’s second movement, and he lets rip with appropriately grand gestures in its high-flown finale. His is a finely judged, if restrained, performance of the Glass, but I can’t help feeling that the piece demands a lot of effort for very little reward. The Houston Symphony gives able support under Christoph Eschenbach – the woodwind are particularly eloquent in some elegant dovetailing in the Adams – but McDuffie is recorded so closely that occasionally he actually obscures some orchestral detail. David Kettle