TERZIAN: Violin Concerto.* Three Pieces for Strings / *Rafael Gintoli, vln; Siberian State Symphony Orch.; Vladimir Lande, cond / Navona NV6277
Wonders never cease; here is a major Violin Concerto by an obviously very fine composer who, once again, has eluded me previously. Alicia Terzian (b. 1934) is an Argentinean who studied at the National Conservatory in Buenos Aires with Alberto Ginastera, Gilardo Gilardi, Garcia Morillo and Floro Ugarte. The music is very much like Ginastera’s, modern in its use of constantly shifting harmonies that always seem to elude a home key yet lyrical and melodic in its top lines. Although written in 1954-55, this is its first-ever recording.
It is clearly a major work and the sort of concerto that I cannot understand its scarcity in performance and previous unavailability on records. But then again, Terzian has a double indemnity against her: she is an Argentinean and a woman. Women composers, unless they have a very powerful PR firm behind them as in the case of Kaja Saariaho, simply don’t get performed much no matter how great their work is. When was the last time you heard one of Lili Boulanger’s major pieces in performance? Or Nancy Van de Vate’s? Or Outi Tarkainen’s? Or even a great 17th-century woman composer like Barbara Strozzi? Probably not in a very long time, if ever.
The first movement of this concerto is a kaleidoscope of fascinating orchestral colors, so much so that I was mesmerized by it. More importantly, however, the music is attractive despite its modern proclivities and it goes somewhere. It is not just a succession of dazzling effects without substance, as in the case of Saariaho’s music. There are even moments of microtonalism here, and the ecstatic solo part, including the very virtuosic cadenza, is played to perfection by Rafael Gintoli, a phenomenal violinist who has been performing as a soloist since the age of 16.
The second movement actually does settle into a key—A minor—and sports a sad but passionate melodic line for the soloist against a backdrop of high winds and low strings. The liner notes tell us that it is based on an old Armenian folk tune titled “Daughter, You Mother Has Died” (yeah, I know, really cheerful). Yet once again Terzian takes the music into unexplored harmonic territory, moving the tonality up, down and sideways as the orchestra plays variants on the theme and the solo violinist accompanies it with trills and occasional snippets of the original tune. This, too, is masterfully written. We then hear a whirlwind of bitonal themes and snippets, tied neatly together to form a coherent whole. The music bubbles and dances in a 6/8 rhythm, and here, too, Gintoli shows his formidable skills as both a technician and an interpreter. Towards the end, the music suddenly slows down as the initial theme makes its reappearance.
The third movement begins with a rumble of soft tympani which slowly crescendos, joined by the trumpets, to produce a sort of odd, galumphing rhythm, allegro but not quite con brio. Here again, Terzian shows her mastery of orchestral sonority, this time in creating rich and powerful blends of the brass and string instruments. The violin part consists of mostly rhythmic figures, eventually breaking into a sort of odd-rhythmed bitonal dance as the heavy brass, strings and tympani continue to break out and recede in volume behind it. At the four-minute mark, the music suddenly slows to an andante as the violin plays a lyrical melody of bittersweet quality. At about 5:14 the tempo returns to its allegro form for the development section, with yet another solo cadenza suddenly appearing at the 6:26 mark. This is a masterful work.
The Three Pieces for Strings is not a new recording, but a reissue of the performance previously released on a Navona album titled Off the Edge. It also dates from 1954, and is similarly bitonal but essentially more lyrical in the first movement particularly, with an attractive theme that engages the listener. I’m not sure exactly what the problem is, but the Siberian State Orchestra doesn’t sound to be in top form on this recording. Their sound is a bit “flat,” not so much in intonation as a lack of luster in the string sound. Perhaps a fault of the microphone placement.
But the music itself is hypnotic and interesting, though both the first and second pieces are slow ones. The second, titled “Pastoral With Variations,” opens with a brief viola solo before the full string section comes in. Here, I really did think I heard some intonation problems when the entire body of strings played together; either that, or Terzian was engaging in some microtonalism within an inherently tonal format. I mention this because the fairly lengthy violin solo in the middle does indeed contain some microtonalism. When the full strings play again, around the 3:53 mark, I again heard some quirky intonation, whether purposeful or accidental I do not know.
The third piece, titled “Rustic Dance,” is a strong, non-Argentinean piece that more closely resembles something by Bartók. Its muscular allegro rhythms are occasionally interrupted by pauses and dead stops in the music, an interesting but quirky feature of this music. By and large, however, Terzian drives her point home with strength and conviction, and in this movement I heard no moments of suspect intonation at all.
This is an outstanding release which I heartily endorse, a real gem!
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)