Daniel Hope, violinist and music director of the New Century Chamber Orchestra, calls his new album with the orchestra, Music for a New Century (Deutsche Grammophon), “a portrait of composition in postmodern times”. This is a deft way of explaining why four wholly diverse works have been programmed together, all commissioned or co-commissioned by Hope and his ensemble.
Philip Glass’s Piano Concerto No 3, soloist Alexey Botvinov, shows the composer at his most (or perhaps too) liquid and mellifluous. Overture, by Glass’s compatriot Jake Heggie, explores jaunty strings lines and syncopations in the tradition of an American predecessor, Aaron Copland. Tan Dun’s Double Concerto – a scaling down of his triple concerto, now for violin, piano, strings and percussion – is invigorating and evocative in its mixing of Chinese and western musical styles. Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Lament, as melancholy as its title suggest, provides a powerful vehicle for Hope’s virtuosity. You could object to the narrowness of the choices – it is, inevitably, a partial portrait of a vast subject – or you could enjoy it on its own terms, which I did.
Three violin sonatas from early in the 20th century, by Claude Debussy, Edward Elgar and Leoš Janáček, peaks of the repertoire, are the focus of 1919: Coda (Delphian), a recital by the New Zealand-born violinist Benjamin Baker and his Hungarian duo partner, the pianist Daniel Lebhardt. Europe was on the brink of wholesale change in the aftermath of the first world war. This is the mood, rather than any date-specific reasons, captured by the album’s title: a coda to a vanishing existence.
All three sonatas are mature works, each a beguiling union of wistful restraint and sweeping passion. Debussy and Elgar were reaching the end of their careers; Janáček went on to a rich late flowering. Lili Boulanger died in 1918 but, aged only 24, her life had barely begun. Three pieces by her, including D’un matin de printemps, give poignant contrast. Baker and Lebhardt, who listen and respond to each other precisely and sensitively, are ideal and impassioned guides.