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Erik Chisholm's Violin Concerto - Glasgow performance and BBC broadcast

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Author Topic: Erik Chisholm's Violin Concerto - Glasgow performance and BBC broadcast  (Read 1466 times)
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« on: April 23, 2015, 10:40:50 pm »

Well ...

The Chisholm Violin Concerto is an amazing piece. It is far more approachable and accessible than the piano concertos. Dramatic and impassioned, it drew an enthusiastic response from the large audience in attendance. There is really not a dull bar in the piece, and much of it was sending shivers down my spine. Admittedly, it’s the only Chisholm piece I have heard in the concert hall rather than recorded, but no other piece of his has bowled me over in the same way.

I think that one of the difficulties with the Hindustani PC is that the rhythmic complexity gets in the way of grasping the musical material. I was expecting the same in the Violin Concerto, but the writing is much easier to follow.

It really is a scandal that this piece has lain unperformed for 60 years.

It has an unusual four-movement structure, which may have put some off the idea of performing it. The first movement is entitled “Passacaglia telescopo in modo Vasantee”, whatever that means, and the passacaglia starts initially in the lower strings before the soloist’s first entrance. The tempo marking is “poco sostenuto”. The music, full of Indian colour, builds up to a dramatic climax towards the end of the movement that cuts directly into a long and gripping cadenza.

The second movement is an allegro scherzando, which is a fierce, hard-driven scherzo with nothing very playful about it. Chisholm uses two side drums in this movement; one is played conventionally, and the other is played as a tabla at the same time. The movement leads to another, shorter cadenza which is terminated by a loud thump from the orchestra that concludes the movement.

The third movement is titled “Aria in modo Sohani” and is marked “andante expressio“. It starts off as a long dialogue between soloist and flute over cello pizzicati, with other instruments joining in.

The allegro molto finale is described as a “fuga senza tema”. Well, it depends what you mean by “theme”; it is recognisably a fast fugue with a scurrying figuration as subject. It’s a whirling dance of a movement bringing the work to a brilliant conclusion.

I know that the “MacBartok” tag refers to Chisholm the folk-song collector and is not a reference to his musical style, but here I actually was reminded of Bartok in places, specifically the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste. Partly, perhaps, for the “misterioso” character of some of the orchestration.

This would be a great piece to put on at the Proms. Just as Foulds’s “Dynamic Triptych” has gone from being completely unknown to a popular classic in the space of the last 20 years, I can see the same thing happening to Chisholm’s Violin Concerto. It has much the same sort of appeal.
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