Sunday, 23 November 2014

Anne Akiko Meyers plays ‘The American Masters’ (Barber, Corigliano, and Bates)



Anne Akiko Meyers - The American Masters
Barber, Corigliano, Bates; Anne Akiko Meyers, London Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin; eOne Records
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Nov 13 2014
Star rating: 4.0

New and classic American concertos from young American violinist

American Anne Akiko Meyers was a child prodigy – performing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at age 11, and the New York Philharmonic when she was only 12. She studied at the Colburn School of Performing Arts, Indiana University, and at Juilliard. She is well known for her support of new music and the integration of non-classical musical forms, especially that of jazz, and serves on the advisory board of Composers Concordance and Young Concert Artists.

American Anne Akiko Meyers was a child prodigy – performing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at age 11, and the New York Philharmonic when she was only 12. She studied at the Colburn School of Performing Arts, Indiana University, and at Juilliard. She is well known for her support of new music and the integration of non-classical musical forms, especially that of jazz, and serves on the advisory board of Composers Concordance and Young Concert Artists.

Meyers cut her first album at the Abbey Road Studios in London aged 18 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Included on this recording was the 'Violin concerto' by Samuel Barber (1910-1981) and Max Bruch's (1838-1920) 'Violin Concerto No. 1'. This new recoding, her 30th, also features Barber's 'Violin concerto' along with two world premieres, 'Lullaby for Natalie' by John Corigliano (1938-) and 'Violin concerto' by Mason Bates (1977-) performed with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin.


Billed as the 'Past present and future of American music', the music featured on 'The American Masters' presents a timeline of composition - Barber mentored Corigliano who in turn taught Bates.

Barber wrote his 'Violin concerto' in 1939 as a commission for violinist Iso Briselli, the ward of industrialist Samuel Simeon Fels. But due to several differences in opinion between Barber, Briselli and Briselli's teacher, Barber's father's illness, and the outbreak of war, the concerto was not completed until 1940. Even then Briselli was so disappointed with the third movement that he distained to perform it. Apparently Briselli wanted the entire concerto to be more difficult and virtuosic to play, and he felt that the final perpetuum mobile was 'not violinistic' enough. Despite this the concerto had its first official public outing in 1941, with Albert Spalding taking the lead, and has remained a favourite with music lovers ever since.

Meyers' performance of the Barber was poised and with pointedly jazzy rhythms. The orchestral support and contrasts were nicely balanced. Each of the counter-lines was clearly audible and played as though they were themselves the soloist, even if that meant Meyers' soaring descant was dimmed down, ensuring that there was more balance than other recordings, and overall a finely structured sound.

In contrast to the detail in the first movement, the second was an overegged romantic pastoral, which due to the mutes was woolly and beefy. The final movement was as different from the first two as they were from each other. Here Meyers and the LSO settled into frenzy – giving it an organic, rather than mechanical, sheen. The little tunes which lift the movement were brought out as folk tunes and marches before the final extremes of the soloist and a fatalistic chord.

'Lullaby for Natalie' was written by Corigliano for Meyers's first daughter in 2010. The premiere below was scored for violin and piano - but in this new recording the accompaniment was expanded for the orchestra providing a different character, while retaining the airiness of the original. Corigliano's skill here is in setting up a romantic film score in miniature.



Bates was commissioned by Meyers to write his 'Violin concerto', which was premiered in December 2012 - also with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Slatkin (who Meyers first worked with when she was 19). Bates' archaeological idea was sparked by an archaeopteryx (A. siemensii) fossil found in southern Germany. Archaeopteryx was alive in the Late Jurassic period about 150 million years ago and in evolutionary terms is thought to be a transitional animal, part way between reptile and bird – and it is this hybrid nature which attracted Bates.

The three movements 'Archaeopteryx', 'Lakebed memories', and 'The rise of the birds' are a mental fusion between orchestral and electronic sounds (the reptile and bird). All the technological techniques that Bates may have wanted to use were translated into an orchestral setting. On another level Bates described the role of the violin as a 'hybrid musical creature' – “First and foremost is the solo violinist, who inhabits two identities: one primal and rhythmic, the other elegant and lyrical.”

The gritty, can't keep still rhythm of the first movement with its bone rattling, and creeping wildlife was an environment for the violin/archaeopteryx to explore. Here Meyers jazz repertoire can be heard in the attacked rhythms and classical influences in the playful singing tune which slowly emerged. In 'Lakebed memories' the violin dreamily explored this melody further, with sliding sighs from the orchestra, becoming more airy as the creature takes its first flight.

In the final movement Bates was inspired by both Bach and 'sparkling electronica' and the evolution of archaeopteryx into a bird is imagined. Here Meyers rose high on orchestral winds which echo and support her, and with a sparkling cadenza, then a beautiful rendition of the tune while the bird soared. This little concerto is a wonder of idea and execution. The use of rhythm, dynamics and techniques combine in a unique way to produce something whimsical and really special, and it is Meyers execution, along with the skill of the orchestra which bring it alive.
Reviewed by Hilary Glover

The American Masters
Anne Akiko Meyers, violin, London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin (30 Sept 2014) [53:37] recorded 2013 at LSO St Lukes, London, England

Samuel Barber - Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14 (1939)
I. Allegro
II. Andante
III. Presto in moto perpetuo

John Corigliano - Lullaby for Natalie (2010)

Mason Bates - Violin Concerto (2012)
I. Archaeopteryx
II. Lakebed memories
III. The rise of the birds

eOne Records B00M574ER6



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