ADAMS Violin Concerto (Josefowicz)
In his memoir Hallelujah Junction (Faber: 2008; 2/09), John Adams pays a glowing tribute to Leila Josefowicz’s tireless advocacy of his Violin Concerto, praising the soloist’s ability to bring out implicit rhythmic shadings and expressive possibilities in the music that even he had not imagined were there.
From the evidence provided on this new recording by Josefowicz, one can fully understand why. Adams’s virtuoso concerto is difficult to pull off at the best of times, with more tricky corners to navigate than a Formula One racing track. A restless, edgy lyricism pervades the first movement, which imperceptibly gains momentum through Adams’s trick of using a metric modulation grid à la Elliott Carter. The two forces don’t truly lock into place until the final movement (‘Toccare’), which alternates between fiery capriciousness and a dancelike swagger. In between, an eerie, dreamlike second still retains some of the restlessness of the opening movement but is held in check by a looping chaconne bass that shimmers underneath.
Comparing Josefowicz’s new recording with her previous performance (the BBC Symphony Orchestra with Adams himself conducting) – which possessed plenty of grit and dynamism – seems somewhat unfair. That was back in 2002. The 2018 Josefowicz vintage certainly brings with it a depth and maturation that can only be achieved through 20 years of living and breathing a work now performed by the violinist more than 100 times. Throw into the mix David Robertson’s bold interpretation with the excellent St Louis Symphony Orchestra and this recording sets a new benchmark.
Many of the finest performances of Adams’s concerto bring something new to the work – heightened characterisation in Tamsin Waley-Cohen’s excellent recording, again with the BBC SO, power and punch in Ilya Gringolts’s take on the work with Julien Salemkour and the Copenhagen Philharmonic or nuanced shaping and integration of soloist and orchestra from Kristjan Järvi and the MDR Symphony Orchestra with Chad Hoopes. Josefowicz’s mesmerising performance manages to blend all these elements while retaining her own imprint. Faultless.