Holloway: Violin Concerto; Horn Concerto

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COMPOSERS: Holloway
LABELS: Collins
WORKS: Violin Concerto; Horn Concerto
PERFORMER: Ernst Kovacic (violin), Barry Tuckwell (horn)Scottish CO/Matthias Bamert
CATALOGUE NO: 14392 DDD
These two concertos, separated by a decade, encapsulate the strength and the weakness of Robin Holloway’s music, and emphasise the thin dividing line between bland retrospection and his genuinely creative exploration of the past. The Horn Concerto from 1980 is a stolid, unremarkable piece, putting the soloist rigorously through his technical paces within an idiom that never strays too far from the neo-classical straight and narrow; Richard Strauss’s two concertos for the same instrument appear to be its closest cousins. The Violin Concerto from 1990, though, is one of Holloway’s most impressive recent works, a bewitching synthesis of old and new.

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From the start of his career Holloway’s best music has always been allusive, and the Violin Concerto comes equipped with its peel-away layers of reference – to the windows in the home of the poet John Ashbery, to the poetry of Rilke, and to a song by Fauré, ‘Le parfum impérissable’, which is quoted magically at the centre of the concerto. The basic slow-fast-slow-fast-slow scheme pivots about that quotation, which sets the tone of its refined expressive palette, full of intricate detail woven by the solo violin and the orchestra and articulated by highly wrought climaxes. For all the quirkiness of its form, it’s the kind of work that becomes more satisfying with every hearing, and this performance by Kovacic is a real tour de force. Andrew Clements