WORKS: Violin Concerto (Leeds); A Month in the Country; Sinfonietta
PERFORMER: Christiane Edinger (violin)English Northern Philharmonia/ Paul Daniel
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 905 DDD
Howard Blake’s Violin Concerto was a commission from Leeds City Council to celebrate the centenary of the city’s official founding. With a musical history more often connected with brass bands and the piano competition, it was perhaps an odd choice, but the work recalls all the swagger and opulence of Victorian municipal aspirations. Indeed, it is unashamedly rooted in the virtuoso concerto tradition and Blake loves the violin to ‘soar as no other instrument can’.
The solo part is a dream for any violinist: melodies ascend with fluent arpeggios and weave their way poignantly down while swirling harps spell out ‘wonder’ in Disney-speak. The writing is comfortably centred in the major key and the constant swinging octaves and scales in thirds make for a gratifying kind of virtuosity. Weaknesses are more evident in the orchestral part. An initial hum for lower strings turns into a clumsy syncopated chug (worthy of Malcolm Arnold at his worst) and the music too often changes direction by means of obvious devices: awkward key changes, rising scales. An eloquent second movement is marred by self-conscious echoes, but the third dances with a suitably folksy jig. Christiane Edinger and the Northern Philharmonia do the work more than justice.
The suite from the film A Month in the Country shows Blake’s instinct for dense string orchestra texture at its most effective; the Sinfonietta for ten brass instruments is well written but uninspired. Helen Wallace