SCHOENBERG: Violin Concerto, Op. 36. SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47.
Hilary Hahn, violin; Swedish Radio Symphony Orch/Esa-Pekka Salonen, cond.

DOHNÁNYI: Violin Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 17. Violin Concerto No 2 in C minor, Op. 43.
Michael Ludwig, violin; Royal Scottish National Orch/JoAnn Falletta, cond.
NAXOS 8.570833 (B) TT: 71:24

BOTTESINI: Gran Duo Concertante for Violin, Double Bass and Orchestra. Duetto for Clarinet and Double Bass. Gran Concerto in F# minor.
Thomas Martin, double-bass; José-Luis Garcia, violin; Emma Johnson, clarinet; English Chamber Orch/Andrew Litton, cond.
NAXOS 8.570397 (B) TT: 53:44

LEIGHTON: Symphony for Strings, Op. 3. Concerto for Organ, String Orchestra and Timpani, Op. 58. Concerto for String Orchestra, Op. 39.
John Scott, organ; BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox, cond.
CHANDOS 10461 (F) TT: 74:34

YOSHIMATSU: Saxophone Concerto, Op. 94 "Albireo Mode." HONDA: Concerto du vent. IBERT: Concertino da camera. LARSSON: Concerto for Saxophone and String Orchestra, Op. 14.
Nobuya Sugana, saxophone; BBC Philharmonic Orch/Yutaka Sado, cond.
CHANDOS 10466 (F) TT: 77:02

When Arnold Schoenberg completed his Violin Concerto in 1936, he gave a copy to his UCLA colleague Jascha Heifetz who, after studying the score, said a violinist with six fingers would be required to play it—and Heifetz never did. Composed with the 12-tone technique, it is admirable for its form and development, but you won't find a memorable "tune" in it. The music is very far removed from the composer's early Straussian works, challenging for performers and audiences. It wasn't until 1940 that the concerto had its premiere with Louis Krasner, Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. No major violinist championed it until now, as Hilary Hahn takes up the cause. Even she, with her impeccable technique, cannot make it accessible—and it probably never will be no matter how well played. The young violinist's CD notes tell of the performance difficulties involved, particularly in tempi—hers apparently is the only recording that follows tempi written in the score. We can be sure all that can be done for Schoenberg's concerto is heard on this CD. Doubtless for most listeners the accompanying Sibelius concerto will be balm for the ears. Both recordings were made in Stockholm in 2007, the Sibelius in March, the Schoenberg in September. Excellent audio.

It's easy to understand why Schoenberg's concerto isn't heard often, but the neglect of Dohnányi's two violin concertos is incomprehensible. The first, the longer of the two (40:40) was composed in 1915 and has four varied movements, the second a Korngold-esque andante, the third a dazzling presto, and the fourth a set of variations. Concerto No. 2, written in 1949, is considerably shorter (30:43) and also has four movements again including an exquisite adagio and sparkling scherzo. Dohnányi writes brilliantly for the soloist, and his orchestration is always imaginative. Young violinist Michael Ludwig plays these delightful concertos in spectacular fashion, with perfect accompaniments provided by the Scottish orchestra under JoAnn Falletta's dynamic direction. These recordings were made in August 2007 in Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, and sonically are just about perfect—rich, wide in dynamic range, with the soloist in proper perspective. Don't miss this one!

Another winner from Naxos is their collection of music by Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889), considered to be "the Paganini of the double bass." His most famous work, Gran Duo Concertante, is presented in Camillo Sivori's version for double bass and violin. Also included are the Gran Concerto in F sharp minor, Andante sostenuto for strings, and Duetto for Clarinet and Double Bass. The last three were at the time premiere recordings of the original versions. These are not new recordings; they were made in May 1986 in London's Henry Wood Hall, previously issued on ASV. Tony Faulkner was the engineer, a guarantee of fine audio, and now these fine performances are available at budget price.

Chandos has started another major series: orchestral works of British composer Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988). Many of his choral and chamber works have been recorded, and Chandos already has issued the Cello Concerto and Symphony No. 3 with Bryden Thomson on the podium. Now we have three works featuring string orchestra, all premiere recordings. When one thinks of a concerto for organ, strings and timpani, usually Poulenc comes to mind—but here is Leighton's, his Op. 58, composed in 1970, 32 years after Poulenc wrote his. Timpani actually play a small part in this dramatic 28-minute work that includes climaxes that will delight audiophiles. Symphony for Strings, Op. 3 dates from 1939, the much more complex Concerto for String Orchestra followed twelve years later. The concerto is the most important, a three-movement work with a pizzicato scherzo second movement and, in the third movement, a searing climax that might remind some listeners of Barber's Adagio for Strings. Performances throughout could not be bettered, and, as mentioned above, sonic quality is superb.

Another intriguing Chandos issue features a master of the saxophone, Nobuya Sugawa, as soloist in two concertos dedicated to him. Takashi Yoshimatsu had written a saxophone concerto for Sugawa in 1994, and when Sugawa requested another concerto, it was decided to write it for soprano saxophone. The subtitle "Albireo Mode" refers to the name of the double Beta star at the beak of the constallation Cygnus which supposedly shines like a topaz and a sapphire, and the music represents characteristics of the instrument: coolness and heat, beauty and depth.Toshiyuki Honda's concerto is titled "Concerto of the Wind," and is his tribute to jazz. Two staples of the saxophone repertory fill out the disk, both associated with Sigurd Rascher, who was a pioneer in music for the instrument. Ibert wrote his concerto in 1935, Lars-Erik Larsson composed his the year before. Both are incredibly demanding for the soloist, and perfectly played by Sugawa. The Chandos engineers have done their usual superb job.

R.E.B. (June 2008)