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CD Review

Jonathan Leshnoff

  • Violin Concerto
  • Distant Reflections
  • String Quartet #1 "Pearl German"
Charles Wetherbee, violin
Carpe Diem String Quartet
Baltimore Chamber Orchestra/Markand Thakar
Naxos 8.559398
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Executive Summary: Engaging tonal music in fine performances.

Based upon the music on this disc, Jonathan Leshnoff's (b1973) style might be best described as classically structured, lyric romanticism. His Violin Concerto, in its revised version of 2007, is cast in five movements. It displays creative orchestration which provides a substantial range of color with the minimum resources of a chamber orchestra. As can be found in music of the baroque, each movement is clearly based on a single tempo. The melodies are formally organized along classical structures of evenly balanced, tightly constructed phrases.

The first movement of the Concerto is perhaps the most attractive of all of the works. It offers engaging thematic material and a strong organizational skill. I found the slow movements to be less successful. Climaxes seemed to be artificially constructed by means of increasing dynamics versus the exigencies of any developmental logic. The third movement, in particular, included some gestures which reminded me of the Symphony "Riverrun" by Stephen Albert. The final movement of the Concerto is quite lovely without being sentimental or trite.

"Distant Reflections" seems, at times, to be something of a tribute to the music of Barber, yet without the range of expression to be found in the works of that great master. It is, however, a very attractive work even if I did find my attention waver from time to time.

The String Quartet is in four movements: Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn. To my ears it is a less successful work. The first movement seems to lack focus. The second movement also seems to ramble. Just when you think the thematic material is moving somewhere it dissolves into gesture. The Summer movement seems to be more gesture than substance. As I listened to the last movement I could not help but think that I was listening to an attempt to paraphrase the adagio from Barber's String Quartet.

Overall, one finds the music competently written, yet no distinct personality seems to emerge. There are those frequent references that remind me of the music of Stephen Albert. Leshnoff seems to find greater focus in the fast movements. Slow sections seem to ramble at times and become laden with somewhat empty rhetoric. That is not to say they do not have moments of great beauty, which they do in abundance.

Violinist Charles Wetherbee gives a superb performance of the Concerto. He is a superb musician who is very respectful of the music…perhaps too respectful. I would have appreciated a bit more expression in his playing. Conductor Markan Thakar gives a very well-controlled performance providing great clarity to the music. The playing of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra is remarkably fine. They play with great elan. The stars on this disc are the players of the Carpe Diem String Quartet. They are highly gifted musicians who have a superb sense of ensemble. I was greatly impressed with their playing.

The recorded sound is excellent. Even with the above stated reservations, this is music worthy of repeated listening.

Copyright © 2009, Karl Miller