September 24th 2008

Review from November 2001


John VEALE (b. 1922)
Violin Concerto (1984?) [35.33]
Benjamin BRITTEN

Violin Concerto (1939) [34.20]
Lydia Mordkovich (violin)
BBCSO/Richard Hickox
rec Blackheath Halls, London, 29-30 Nov 2000

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Chandos have once again put us in their debt by releasing this superbly recorded and impressively committed performance of the John Veale Violin Concerto. Written in 1984, this deeply personal work was one of the first fruits of a return to composition after 12 years of silence. This creative hiatus was caused by lack of performances and broadcasts thanks to the Glock regime at the BBC. At times one can hear in the concerto some of the anger and frustration of an artist stifled by rejection alongside a more personal grief which surfaces most poignantly in the beautiful central Lament.


Sound Sample: Veale Violin Concerto 1st Movement opening

The first movement begins portentously with a majestic orchestral flourish followed by an ascending line from the soloist, establishing the late Romantic idiom and essentially tragic character of much of the work. The orchestral introduction is dominated by two main themes, the first underpinned by an urgent, rocking motif and the second a lyrical outpouring for strings dominated by a falling triplet. This introduction recalls John Veale’s facility for scoring films with its rhetorical, broad brushstrokes that pack an emotional punch. The rest of the movement concerns the working out of the two main themes with the soloist acting as the first person singular in the symphonic narrative. An idiomatic and impressively extended cadenza grows from and leads back into a scherzando-like passage, more like a ‘hunted’ scherzo than a ‘hunting’ one with its desperate, fugitive character.

Sound Sample: Veale Violin Concerto 1st Movement extract 2


After the opening movement’s grand, tragic gestures, the Lament is an intimate song of personal grief. Harp ostinati unlock a world of great tenderness and fearless emotional honesty. The delicate harmonics and rising sobs from the soloist with which this heartbreaking movement ends arise naturally, unconcerned by empty technical prowess, always at the service of the music.

Sound Sample: Veale Violin Concerto 2nd Movement opening

Sound Sample: Veale Violin Concerto 2nd Movement extract 2

(The clicks you hear are not on the CD but seem to be an artefact of my sample compression process)

After this soul bearing, the Finale tries to assume a brave face with a hearty Waltonian bluffness but memories of previous themes return to haunt the music.

Sound Sample: Veale Violin Concerto 3rd Movement


It is the searing intensity of the first two movements that stays in the memory after the Finale’s hearty gestures have long faded. The overall impression is of a concerto on a grand scale distinguished by its tender intimacy, which is sympathetically written for the solo instrument and communicates directly with its audience. Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto is one of the few 20th century examples in the genre with comparable intensity and emotional impact.

The Britten concerto receives a more relaxed reading than the 1971 Decca recording with Mark Lubotsky and the English Chamber Orchestra under the composer’s direction (London 417 308-2). The work benefits from a more spacious view, its considerable complexities rightly subordinated to a clear narrative line. The reflective conclusion is most beautifully realised. Orchestra and soloist are clearly in sympathy with both of these concertos and the chemistry between Mordkovitch and Hickox produces such wonderful results I hope this partnership will feature in future recordings. This disc would have been even more desirable had it been released as an all-Veale CD and included a symphony (ideally the composer’s second, shamefully still awaiting its premiere). Nonetheless, this is mere carping in the light of such a winning performance of John Veale’s impassioned and moving work that engages the emotions without manipulating them.

Paul Conway

Sound Sample: Britten Violin Concerto 1st Movement

Sound Sample: Britten Violin Concerto 2nd Movement

Sound Sample: Britten Violin Concerto 3rd Movement







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