Caroline Widmann violin 
Huw Watkins piano
BBC Symphony Orchestra 
Jukka-Pekka Saraste conductor
BBC National Orchestra of Wales 
Catherine Larsen-Maguire conductor
London Sinfonietta 
Ryan Wigglesworth conductor

NMC D277

I am pleased to review this disc of large scale works by Michael Zev Gordon because my recent experience of his music was the CD of piano works Diary Pieces (of which I gather there are now over 100) about which I felt somewhat ambivalent. Those pieces are merely jottings when compared to the large pieces on this disc. These three works make a deep impression, and confirm that Gordon is a master of orchestral writing (with a little electronic help).

Bohortha is a Cornish village and is the inspiration for these seven pieces for orchestra, composed in 2012.The booklet notes explain that ‘memory’ is the centre of Michael Zev Gordon’s music, and seeks to clarify that the thematic references to earlier works (the Scene in the countryside from Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique and the Adagietto from Mahler 5) in the first of the seven movements. It is the past entering the present. Well, whatever we make of this, the music itself is made up of complex rhythms juxtaposed on top of each other but subsiding occasionally to allow for the references to Berlioz and Mahler to peep through. The seven movements have intriguing titles (including Lost Worlds, Still Centre, Terrifying Angel) and the music is as colourful and inventive as these.

The violin concerto of 2017 is in three movements – slow, fast, slow, and unlike Bohortha relies on through-composed music, beginning with an oscillating two-note figure out of which the melody and harmony emerge. Surely the Berg violin concerto was an influence in the juxtaposition of careful and colourfully orchestrated accompanied sections, and the strident tutti outbursts. The movement ends with quiet music and the violin playing very high notes.

The middle movement is fast and is neo-baroque in style and reminds me of Prokofiev (middle movement of the first concerto) and Stravinsky’s violin concerto. But Gordon has his own individual voice. The music is lively, and the orchestra keeps this up to the end while the soloist plays long notes above. The finale is introduced by soaring string exchanges, and an oscillating figure reminds us of the first movement. After a solo cadenza the work ends almost as it began.

The Impermanence of Things (2009) is a major work for piano, large ensemble (including piano accordion) and electronics. Over thirteen movements we again hear fragments of the past (Couperin, Debussy, Schumann). The movement titles are interesting in themselves (the first is True singing is a different breath, about nothing) and the entire piece is a marvel of variety and invention. The work ends with ‘May his memory be a blessing’ which is a lament, the title of a Jewish prayer for the recently deceased.

Review by Ronald Corp