Piston

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COMPOSERS: Piston
LABELS: Naxos American Classics
WORKS: Violin Concerto No. 1; Violin Concerto No. 2; Fantasia for Violin and Orchestra
PERFORMER: James Boswell (violin); Ukraine National SO/Theodore Kuchar
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559003
Tarred unfortunately with the brush of academicism on account of his widely-disseminated text books on musical analysis, harmony, counterpoint and orchestration, the American Walter Piston deserves far greater recognition as a composer. Perhaps not as distinctive a musical voice as Roy Harris or even William Schuman, his work is nonetheless direct in expression and capable of great rhythmic incisiveness and tender lyricism. Occasionally, there’s a feeling of an all-purpose modernism when Piston engages in exhaustive contrapuntal development of his material, but such moments are few and far between in the present release.

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Each work explores a different facet of Piston’s style. Dating from the 1930s, much of the First Concerto’s energetic exuberance clearly derives from Stravinsky, though the syncopations have a distinctly American accent. The Second Concerto, composed in 1960, is less extrovert, the atmospheric and brooding slow movement invoking the wide expanse of the American Plain at night. Finally the Fantasia, composed three years before Piston’s death in 1976, explores a more chromatic idiom moving away from the bounds of conventional tonality.

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The considerable technical demands of these concertante pieces clearly hold no terrors for violinist James Buswell who plays throughout with great brilliance and warmth. Equally impressive is the outstanding accompaniment from the Ukrainian Orchestra who dispatch Piston’s busy writing with tremendous aplomb. In short, this is an enterprising and irresistible bargain. Erik Levi