21st Century Violin Concertos
Our century may be young, but several violin concertos have already staked a claim as major statements in the genre: think Adès, Birtwistle, Salonen and Widmann, to name four.
Do these three efforts, all written for the charismatic Renaud Capuçon and taped at their world premieres, join those? Not quite. That doesn’t gainsay Capuçon’s probing playing or his welcome advocacy, nor the dedication and accuracy of his conductors. But a uniformity of gesture, a too self-conscious reckoning with the concerto format itself, weighs proceedings down.
Dusapin’s half-hour concerto comes in three movements and tweaks the old darkness-to-light plot in a dialectical direction. In Aufgang, he says, ‘the conflict between darkness and dazzlement becomes the driving force’. Clear enough at the outset, with the violin high over a dappled, shadowy background; less so later on, when that conflict meanders, albeit through a particularly forthright, powerful steel-drums-and-flute detour in the second movement.
Rihm’s Gedicht des Malers (‘Poem of the Painter’) is his sixth violin concerto, and imagines the soloist as an artist’s brush, painting a portrait of Ysaÿe. It packs a remarkable series of moods into its 15 minutes. That’s not to say it’s a narrative work, although the opening bars suggest a vision, an idea, a sketch coming together. It is sumptuously played, and Rihm gives the soloist space for that, in language that is comfortably aristocratic.
Mantovani’s Jeux d’eau is a surprisingly violent imaginarium, for the most part posing a fluid solo line against percussive collisions. It is primarily descriptive, graphic in its depiction of a downward flow, or of how a drop disturbs a surface. No games here, then. Eventually, though, the constant pirouettes, the patter, the plunges wear thin, even in a quarter-hour work.