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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Danny Elfman, Violin Concerto "Eleven Eleven," Piano Quartet, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, John Mauceri, Sandy Cameron, Philharmonic Piano Quartet Berlin

Virtually every day brings us the new. Nothing stands still, much as we will it or do not will it nothing is in frozen time. It all will not stand motionless and why resist the human creative outpouring, even if life can otherwise become less thrilling than advertised? No doubt. So today I am happy to be back with something new and notable. It is the music of Danny Elfman, mostly known out there as a composer for film. He is fond, so I read, of the number eleven. And now there is a nicely done recording out of his Violin Concerto "Eleven Eleven," (Sony Classics 19075869752) which also includes his Piano Quartet. 

Credit must be given to the performers on this CD for they are very good, very appropriate to the music at hand. Sandy Cameron is the solo violinist and she is lucid and clear, a real voice in all she must execute--it is not an easy part and it too has much rhapsodic detail that requires true spirit and virtuosity. She is remarkable. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra under John Mauceri has the dramatic torque so necessary to this work and they captivate. The Philharmonic Piano Quartet Berlin give us the corresponding "Piano Quartet" with fine musicianship and flair.

So we are in very good hands for this music. If the Concerto reminds me a little bit of Prokofiev only in its own original way, so much the better--I can't think of modern violin concertos I like more than the two by Prokofiev, though there are others I like as well. Elfman keeps the motoric and expressive feeling one gets from the Prokofiev works and makes that his own. All that means that this music is tonal and on that edge between the ultra-Modern and the Late Romantic if you look for a characterizing set of labels.

What matters is not the category set as does the very moving musicality of it all. Faced with the invitation to write a Violin Concerto for Sandy Cameron, Elfman immersed himself in a heavy pile of concerto listening items and ended up with the wish to take the sort of post-Romantic elements he so loved in the music of the later Russians, that is Prokofiev and Shostakovitch, and go somewhere with that idea. So there was going to be a lyric melodic element, a modernist harmonic and rhythmic advancement and... to satisfy the needs and proclivities of Sandy Cameron, the work was going to be demanding to her both technically and emotionally. Elfman had always been intrigued with the number eleven and when Sandy suggested they count the number of measures in the finished work, it came to 1111, or Eleven Eleven! And so it was a good thought for the title.

The music Elfman hoped also satisfied his wish to bring together his already considerable audience for his film scores with the modern classical listening audience. And so he does to my mind.

The "Piano Quartet" that fills out the program has a depth and memorability that makes it a wonderful way to end the program. Between it and the Concerto we have a nice presentation of original lyricism that is not meant to be cutting edge so much as memorable and uplifting. The orchestration is good and the solo part thrilling enough to get your attention and keep it!

Danny Elfman has talent, plenty of it. You should hear this!

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