American composer Danny Elfman is no stranger to orchestration, having composed scores for more than 100 films including Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and most of Tim Burton's outfit (not to mention the theme for The Simpsons). He was also the lead singer of the rock band Oingo Boingo. Despite this impressive track record, he was more or less spontaneously seized by a desire to write abstract orchestral music, and this 2019 release provided the first fruits of the impulse. Generally speaking, ventures into abstract music by film composers have yielded less-than-impressive results. Yet rules have exceptions, and Elfman, apparently feeling his way according to his own notes for the album, has managed a considerable achievement right out of the gate. The trick seems to be that he neither discards his cinematic influences nor writes a film score with the themes lightly strung together. The Violin Concerto "Eleven Eleven" -- so called because its score contains 1,111 measures (and Elfman's own name contains the German word for "11") -- has any number of cinematic moments, but it is also impressive in terms of overall form. It has four movements of substantial size (there is no concession whatsoever to the moderate-length tendency of crossover works), and the layout is unusual, with outer neo-Romantic movements flanking more dissonant central ones. Most striking of all is Elfman's integration of the solo violin into his overall concept. Certainly he has written for solo violin before in film scores, but the coherence of the solo-tutti configuration here is nothing short of amazing when you consider that Elfman has never before attempted anything like this. Part of the success is due to violinist Sandy Cameron, for whom the work was written; she has clearly taken the time to know it well, and reports of her live performances of the work promise much. Sample the finale, which begins with impish Shostakovich-like vigor, then gradually loses heart and ends in full-blown melancholy. The concerto is full of the unusual orchestral effects (such as percussive double bass hits) that one would expect from Elfman, but in the other work on the program, the Piano Quartet, he does not have much recourse to these. It's a trifle less original than the concerto, but it's full of lovely tunes. An astounding debut.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Violin Concerto "Eleven Eleven"|