Salonen’s Amazing Violin Concerto; Mesmerizing Nyx

Review by: Victor Carr Jr


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Esa-Pekka Salonen’s compositional work continues its upward trajectory with his new (2009) Violin Concerto (subtitled “Out of Nowhere”). It’s his finest piece to date, and one of the most compelling orchestral works of the still young 21st century. Transcending the boundaries of both tonality and atonality, Salonen’s music is distinctly modern—but not modernist, as he unapologetically uses tonal centers as it suits him. This gives his music a fresh, vibrant quality even as it provides the listener with guideposts along the way (an aspect decried as “middle of the road” by doctrinaire critics).

The first movement, “Mirage”, begins with the solo violin flitting around like some wayward butterfly, aided softly by celesta, vibraphone, and harp. The orchestra suddenly erupts in dramatic chords underpinned by swelling subterranean bass while woodwinds ascend into the stratosphere. This segues into the pensive second movement, “Pulse 1”, followed by the scintillating and swinging “Pulse II”, where Salonen deploys a rock n’ roll drum set to dramatic effect. The final movement, “Adieu”, unusually ends the concerto in a slow, somber vein with angry full-orchestra protestations before the music gradually disintegrates.

Salonen composed the concerto for Leila Josefowicz, who astounds in her tour-de-force performance of the formidable solo part, with its dizzying runs and leaps, along with triple and quadruple stops, all at often breathtaking speed. (Nearly as impressive is her ability to memorize all of this, as a concert video makes clear she plays without a score). The Finnish Radio Symphony powerfully performs the accompaniment under Salonen’s authoritative leadership.

The 2010 tone poem Nyx is named for the Greek goddess of night. Sibelius inhabits the work’s shadowy atmosphere (Salonen freely admits the great Finnish composer’s influence), with horns baying Lemminkäinen-like into the wilderness in the opening; a subsequent violent outburst that recedes into an eerie stillness on hushed strings calls to mind a similar passage in Tapiola. Yet, this is unmistakably music by Salonen, as the composer’s now-trademark frenetic energy and bracing orchestral effects make clear.

Again the composer leads the work as only he could; the Finnish Radio Symphony plays with such alacrity and seeming spontaneity it’s almost as if it were an extension of Salonen’s nervous system. Deutsche Grammophon’s engineering relays the full impact of the performance. A top-priority release, enthusiastically recommended.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

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