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Thursday, November 12, 2020

John Harbison, Concertos for String Instruments, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose


John Harbison (b 1938) is a dean of Modern US composers with more than 300 distinguished and original works in his catalog. The vital Boston Modern Orchestra Project under Gil Rose highlights his later period with some three Concertos for String Instruments (BMOP Sound  1074). We get a chance to drill down into some brilliance of presence in the 1988 "Concerto for Viola and Orchestra," the 2009 "Double Concerto for Violin, Violoncello and Orchestra" and the 2005 "Concerto for Bass Viol and Orchestra."

Later Harbison retains the high inventive and orchestrational acuteness of his earlier, more High Modernist work but then adds a somewhat Neo-Classical tang to it all. Through the entirety of this program he retains his own original voice, quite happily. This is as true of the overall body of work in the pas decades as it is of these works. The concerted dynamics of these present works however set them apart in their dialogic repartee, as one might expect.

I am appreciating all three here for their idiomatic string expression but the Bass Viol Concerto stands out for me as especially memorable. Edwin Barker does a fine job as the bass soloist. The sonority is enhanced by a tuning in fifths instead of fourths. The same performance excellence also applies throughout the program to Marcus Thompson on viola, Emily Bruskin on violin and Julia Bruskin on cello.

In the end we experience three centerpiece expressi0ons of Late Modernity played with care and proper artistry. It is another BMOP winner and a major addition to the Harbison discography. Grab this by all means if you are so inclined.

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