A Growing and Important Composer
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 10/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"While most concertgoers associate the name of Scottish composer/conductor Oliver Knussen with his successful operas in collaboration with Maurice Sendak - 'Higglety Pigglety Pop!' and 'Where the Wild Things Are' - his reputation in the field of works for orchestra is steadily growing. Knussen may not viewed to be as avant-garde as his contemporaries, opting more for outer filigree and occasional edginess to his central core of harmonics than for 'experimental, post-modern sounds', but his orchestration abilities are evolving into those of an important voice.
This recording is a potpourri of his works, and as such is varyingly interesting. The Horn Concerto is a first class work and Barry Tuckwell plays it for all the fun and delicate nuances it contains. 'The Way to Castle Yonder' works well as a symphonic reduction of the orchestral themes from 'Higglety Pigglety Pop!' and embraces the inherent humor that suffuses all of Knussen's writing. The 'Whitman Settings' for soprano and orchestra show one of Knussen's weaknesses: his writing for the soprano voice (her Lucy Shelton) throws the line into such high tessitura that the important words of Whitman's texts are wholly lost.
Perhaps the best news about Knussen is his current work before the audiences in concert halls today - his Violin Concerto. While it is a brief 17 minutes in length it is extraordinarily beautiful and accessible, this despite the fact that the violin part is excruciatingly demanding. Knussen is now pitting percussion against strings (gongs, harp, celesta, and all the range of the percussion arena accompany the isolated violin line) creating a mysterious and lavishly beautiful sound. It is a new work and is currently being surveyed by Leila Josefowicz and the LA Philharmonic with Esa-Pekka Salonen, and hearing this work for the first time in the brilliant acoustics of Disney Hall makes it very clear that this is a concerto that is destined to enter the standard repertoire. But until that recording comes along, this CD offers enough of a sampler of what this maturing composer can do. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, October 05"