Although Roger Sessions' Violin Concerto (1935) is considered one of his major works (and Elliott Carter, in his program notes for this recording, calls it one of the outstanding works of its era) it has never caught on with performers or audiences, either in concert or on recordings. Part of its neglect may be traced to the cultural climate in America at the time of its composition. In the midst of their own Depression, with disturbingly dark clouds gathering over Europe, Americans were more open to new music with the sunny, jazzy ease of Gershwin than to Sessions' relatively cerebral abstractions in a distinctly modernist tonal language. With the ascendancy of modernism coming to an end in the late twentieth century, composers like Sessions went into eclipse, and the much of the avant-garde of the last century seems quaint and old-fashioned to many performers and audiences.
Albany Records is to be recommended for focusing attention on classics that are an important part of our national musical heritage but are currently out of style. Violinist Ole Bohn and James Bolle, conducting the Monadnock Festival Orchestra, emphasize the concerto's lyricism and passion, while at the same time give it the clear-eyed objectivity its neo-classical style requires. Bohn negotiates the treacherous final movement, dubbed unplayable by the violinist for whom it was written, with fiery elegance. James Bolle's Ritual for violin and chamber orchestra inhabits a world not far removed aesthetically from the Sessions (and, like it, uses no violins in the orchestra). Bolle appropriates music from the past for his thematic material, so his piece is clearly a product of post-modernism, but his developments have a strongly abstract, modernist element. The Monadnock Orchestra sounds like a small ensemble, which is ideal for the Bolle, but has a less powerful presence than what Sessions would have had in mind writing for the New York Philharmonic (which cancelled its planned premiere). Albany's sound is natural and atmospheric, but picks up on page turning and scuffling noises at quiet moments.