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Andrew Wan will rewire your conception of music with his OSM: Ginastera ? Bernstein ? Moussa recording / SHARPS & FLATIRONS

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SHARPS & FLATIRONS - Peter Alexander writes.....One of the perks of job that I do is that people send me recordings.

They want me to review or write about them. Sometimes they come in the U.S. mail, actual CDs. Sometimes they come in the form of links to Mp3 files, although I prefer not to review those because the sound quality of CDs is better. Sometimes I write and ask for a CD instead, and sometimes they send me one.

These recent CDs that showed up in my mailbox all provide opportunities to hear music outside of standard concert fare. This is all the more welcome as the past year has shown even more clearly than usual how much of the music on offer is the same from concert to concert, place to place, year to year. These discs contain music that is definitely not standard concert fare, and they are recommended to help widen your horizons. 

The great Romantic violin concertos-Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and others-are standard parts of the concert repertoire. You may be familiar with the normal outline of those concertos. Meanwhile, violinist Andrew Wan will rewire your conception of music for violin and orchestra with his CD Ginastera – Bernstein – Moussa recorded with conductor Kent Nagano and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (Analekta AN 2 8920).

Two of the three works on the CD are called concertos, but neither quite conforms to the standard mold. And the third piece may sound like a concerto, but it is actually a hybrid of the concerto and the descriptive tone poem.

First on the CD is the Violin Concerto of Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983). A late work in the composer's output, the concerto does not have the colorful folkloric elements of his earlier music. Instead, it is a more thorny work based on 12-tone serial techniques.

Nor does it present a familiar concerto structure. Its barely discernible three movements unfold in five sections. The first movement starts with a wandering, introspective cadenza for solo violin. The second half of the movement comprises six studies, each a variation on the work's tone row, each exploiting a different violin technique and a different orchestral sound quality.

The slow movement is a lyrical interlude that comes closest to a normal concerto movement. The finale is again in two parts: a pianissimo scherzo that leaps from one virtuosic flourish to another, interrupted by fleeting fragments, including hints of Paganini; and a fiery, whiplash Perpetuum mobile.

Wan plays with extreme delicacy when needed, but no shortage of flair. You won't come away humming the themes of Ginastera's score, but you might have a broader view of what a concerto can be.

The disc's other concerto, by young Canadian composer Samy Moussa (b. 1984), stretches the frame in different ways. Three movements-an ethereal prelude, another written-out cadenza, and an ominous, driven movement that surges to a powerful close bound to elicit applause-are played without pause. Than, after the apparent ending, the beginning returns, a sweetly ascending line that takes the soloist into the heights of the violin's range.

This is music that seduces the listener from the outset. Through the first two movements, there is a hint of menace beneath the soaring violin part. That menace is realized with a sudden outburst of ominous chords after the cadenza. These movements create a dramatic arc culminating with the final chords of the third movement, while the unexpected return to the opening idea provides relief and a surprise. I look forward to hearing more of the inventive composer's music.

Between the two concertos is Leonard Bernstein's Serenade, after Plato's "Symposium." This work is hardly unknown-it was played at the Colorado Music Festival's opening concert in 2018-but it has not quite entered the standard solo repertoire.

Plato's Symposium presents a series of seven discourses on love, placed in the context of an evening of eating, drinking and carousing. Bernstein portrays Plato's discourses in music, making the score half concerto, half program music. The seven parts are compressed into five movements, each in a separate and distinct style reflecting the content the speeches.

You need not read Plato to enjoy the Serenade. The score in unified by Bernstein's genial, accessible style. The violin is shown to good advantage, particularly its lyrical qualities. Most memorable is the last movement, in which a sober, serious  speech by Socrates is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of the drunken Alcibiades. As the party descends into raucous chaos, Bernstein's jazzy side emerges, for a flashy and virtuosic ending.

Wan performs with aplomb in these three very different works. He charges fearlessly through Ginastera's atonal fireworks, and soars sweetly through the first two movements of Sousa. Nagano and the Montréal players provide expressive support. This is a fascinating disc, a musical adventure to be relished.

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