John Adams: Violin Concerto by Leila Josefowicz
Sometimes, when listening to John Adams’s violin concerto, I expected the soaring violin line to continue to rise. It was not so: Adams’s music is full of the unexpected. Although (a decade ago now) I wrote my honours thesis on the composer, I seem to remember little of what I learnt, and it is terrific to be reacquainted with his exceptional music. And, for that matter, newly acquainted with the work of violinist Leila Josefowicz.
Composed in 1993, not long after the controversial opera The Death of Klinghoffer, the concerto marked a change in direction for Adams. No longer concerned with minimalism, and with a desire to explore the violin concerto form – which he refers to as a ‘delicately articulated mass of blood, tissue, and bones’ – the work hints occasionally at Romanticism, and sometimes at atonality. There is, I hesitate to add, something of Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending: not so much in the melodic material, but in the way the solo violin line rises and falls, making frequent use of bird-like sonorities in the upper register. It is unquestionably virtuosic, and Josefowicz is in brilliant command of the score. A superb recording of a dazzling work.