DANNY ELFMAN (b.1953): Violin Concerto “Eleven Eleven” (Sandy Cameron [violin], Royal Scottish National Orchestra; John Mauceri), Piano Quartet (Philharmonic Piano Quartet Berlin).
Catalogue Number: 05U011
Label: Sony Classical
Description: This is a superb facsimile of a big, full-blooded post-romantic concerto. Or is it the real thing? You decide! Elfman, rightly in the topmost echelon of contemporary film composers; prolific and adept at turning out memorable and involving scores for movies of every genre, recently started writing pieces for the concert stage. Reading a little between the lines of his comments on the process, it appears that he made a conscious decision to set his prodigious technique to producing a body of works for a concert audience both to challenge himself and to be taken more seriously as a composer outside the field of film music. Thus this impressive, 40-minute, four-movement concerto. The work is tonal, as the composer’s film work would suggest, and full of the fluent inventiveness familiar from those scores. It begins with a somber introduction, which establishes motivic material; the remainder of the first movement is a bracing, episodic development of these ideas, more or less. There follows a fast, motoric movement, 'spietato', which as this marking suggests is a kind of scherzo malizioso. The music is propulsive and ostinato-driven, straying into post-minimalist territory in its later stages. A mysterious and melancholy slow movement is next, fantastical and somewhat sinister, and then an energetic finale, which begins with boisterous high spirits, but takes a turn into darker territory at the end, reminiscent of the work’s opening and lending the concerto a sense of cyclicity. The violin writing throughout is satisfyingly virtuosic and centre-stage, within the boundaries of demanding, conventional playing. So, the piece does everything a post-romantic concerto is 'supposed to' - including an effective if inexplicable intrusion of the Dies irae in the finale - and every gesture, every dramatic episode is handled with descriptive precision. Just like an expertly written film score. Whether the piece has an overarching plan, direction, narrative message, is for the listener to judge. But along the way you are certain to thoroughly enjoy its bold, accessible modern romanticism. The Piano Quartet is a lighter, diverting work of five movements, bearing whimsical titles in German, having been written for the present ensemble. Full of allusions to the repertory, bordering on pastiche especially in the last movement, it makes clever use of colloquial material - like the “nyah nyah” chant that children use to taunt each other in the scherzo-like movement that loosely translates as 'nasty kids'. You get the idea; a fun, appealing, expertly crafted divertimento.