Rorem Double Concerto. After Reading Shakespeare

Perfect performances? Who’s to argue with the composer in this lovely music?

Author: 
Peter Dickinson

Rorem Double Concerto. After Reading Shakespeare

  • Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra
  • After reading Shakepeare

Ned Rorem has known these soloists for many years. He tells us in the CD booklet that these are perfect performances and it’s easy to accept his judgement. The Double Concerto seems to be full of chorales; the first section, “Morning”, is in a harmonic idiom close to Messiaen. The Mazurka never feels Polish and breaks out into a hedonistic waltz; “Looking” alternates between the solo violin and the brass group; and “Conversation at Midnight”, lasting nearly 15 minutes, is by far the longest movement. It is a series of luxuriant exchanges between the soloists and what starts as a kind of D major hymn in the strings, and it has its own central section with faster music. The last movement, “Flight”, blows everything away in just over a minute. All beautifully played.

Twenty minutes of solo cello music is not always the most inviting prospect, but played with this kind of panache there’s plenty to enjoy. It was an original idea to name the nine movements after characters in Shakespeare’s plays, but surprising that the titles were added either after or during composition – so they aren’t portraits. Lear gets two movements – the first more agonised, the second tranquil, perhaps reflecting his eventual reconciliation. Caliban is treated far more charmingly than he deserves. Finally there’s some conflict, as might be expected, when Iago shares a movement with Othello, but it evaporates into an ascending glissando. If some of this seems a little bland, don’t despair – just look out for Rorem’s memoir, Facing the Night: A Diary 1999-2005 (Shoemaker & Hoard: 2006).

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