American Violin Concertos
For some years Menotti’s Violin Concerto, along with his other purely instrumental works, was neglected. The first recording, with Tossy Spivakovsky, appeared in 1955, then Walter Verdehr contributed to a modern revival on Crystal Records 42 years later. He worked with Menotti, who said: ‘An impeccable and moving performance that, for a change, made me enjoy my own music.’ This may reflect the way the composer was pilloried by the New York critics for his old-fashioned music. It doesn’t matter now – several fine recordings followed in the 2000s – and the elegant thematic structure of the Menotti is as satisfying as the evergreen Barber.
Theodore Wiprud, now in his mid-fifties, is director of education at the New York Philharmonic. This is his first concerto, written for Shapira, and it’s subtitled Katrina to commemorate the 2005 hurricane disaster in New Orleans. The first movement opens with a celebration of the types of music associated with the city’s rich cultural mix – bar-room piano, a walking bass and abrupt style modulations. The last two movements are based on songs with local associations, the one elegiac, the other celebratory. There are some ingenious things in the score but it too often sounds like a film soundtrack.
Shapira’s rich tonal variety is amply displayed in all three works, everything well recorded. Even though the pace in Barber’s slow movement is set by his favourite instrument, the oboe, Shapira takes admirable command in this vintage Barber – and the finale is stunning.