Maw: Violin Concerto

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WORKS: Violin Concerto
PERFORMER: Joshua Bell (violin); LPO/Roger Norrington
For Nicholas Maw, whose Violin Concerto is at last released on disc some six years after its premiere, not Barber but Bartók and Britten are the essential Bs who define his concertante ideal. Berg is also an influence, though to contradict those critics who hailed the piece as truly Romantic, Maw’s his own man in keeping his heart a goodly distance from his sleeve. There’s passion, yes, but not of the hot-breathed Korngold-concerto kind. The radiant C major harmony that opens the aptly named Romanza, like the magic chords of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, tell of Romantic enchantment, not Romantic autobiography; and so it is throughout all four movements.


Bell and Norrington, persuasive advocates, know how the piece reveals itself through its own obliqueness. While fireworks abound in the scherzo, the finale, their traditional home, is reserved for songlike melody. The ghost of Fauré haunts its tonal shifts and seamless paragraphs, part of the Gallic legacy of Boulanger via Lennox Berkeley that for 30 years has nourished Maw’s work. Yet in his moderate language, where innovation is tempered and refined to new ends, he’s also an English composer: his own man, definitely, but no less part of the wider scope of history. Nicholas Williams