John Adams: Violin Concerto

Leila Josefowicz / David Robertson / St. Louis Symphony Orchestra

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John Adams: Violin Concerto Review

by James Manheim

John Adams has rarely titled his works with abstract classical genre names, and that he did so in his Violin Concerto of 1993 indicates what the work is about: it is a fairly rigorous attempt to reconcile classical concerto form with his own essentially lyrical and descriptive musical language. The work has been championed by violinist Leila Josefowicz, who has played it all over the world, been hailed by Adams (who conducted her in the work on an earlier recording), and here draws on two decades of experience. The key is that she grasps the music's dual nature: like some kind of musical Schrödinger's cat, Adams here is Romantic and not-Romantic. Sample the opening movement, where there is plenty of difficult passagework to define the heroic soloist, but where the music keeps gravitating back to a characteristic stasis. The middle "Chaconne: body through which the dream flows" is one of Adams' most crowd-pleasing creations, and the finale ("Toccare," emphasizing the process, rather than "Toccata") is in Josefowicz's hands brilliant, diamond-like. The St. Louis Symphony under David Robertson wisely follows the violinist's lead in what may well become a definitive performance, enhanced by strong engineering work in the orchestra's Powell Hall home base.

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