Christian Baldini Conducts Modern Works

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BALDINI: Elapsing Twilight Shades.1 LUTOSŁAWSKI: Chain 2: Dialogue for Violin & Orchestra.2 LIGETI: Violin Concerto.3 VARÈSE: Amériques / 2Maximilian Haft, 3Miranda Cuckson, vln; 1Munich Radio Orch., UC Davis Symphony Orch., Christian Baldini, cond / Centaur CRC 3879

For those who haven’t been paying much attention, we’ve had a good crop of Italian musicians emerge in the past several years—and by musicians, alas, this does not include singers for the most part, though there are a few—who specialize in modern music. Christian Baldini, who is of mixed Italian, Argentinean and American heritage, is one such, and as a freelance conductor who has worked with some of the best orchestras (Munich Radio, Netherlands Symphony, Scottish Chamber Symphony and NW German Philharmonic among others) he likes to play as much modern music as these and other orchestras will let him.

This program opens with his own piece, Elapsing Twilight Shades, and if I would caution him to be careful to write music that is more unified in structure than shocking I hope he will not take it amiss. Elapsing Twilight Shades is full of stunning and often jarring effects, including a fairly heavy dose of woodblocks and other percussion, but for the most part I found it rambling. Happily, he follows this with Lutosławski’s Chain 2 for violin and orchestra, and this he conducts quite effectively. I’m not sure that the composer wanted the violin soloist to play with straight tone, but that’s what we get here, and the edgy sound it produces does seem effective for what is essentially an abstract work. Though there is far more structure here than in the Baldini piece, it still tends to rely on shocking effects for its overall musical impact. With that being said, I really liked the second movement, which is a bit more lyrical and had some interesting things in it. Judging by the lively applause, the Munich audience really enjoyed it.

The Ligeti Violin Concerto, despite its strangeness, is clearly a first-class work, and I was very impressed by our soloist, Miranda Cuckson, who plays it with not only technical fireworks but also with tremendous feeling. Here everything falls into place in a first-rate performance that does full justice to the music. Listen particularly to the way she plays the slow second movement, with so much heart that you’d think she was in love. Unfortunately, the horns crack a couple of times which mars its effectiveness. Cuckson also plays the “Intermezzo” movement with tremendous passion. She is one outstanding violinist!

We end our excursion with Amériques by one of the most controversial composers of the 20th century, Edgard Varèse, the grandfather of music as sound and not structure. He is probably most famous for being constantly cited as an influence by Frank Zappa, who particularly liked his quote, “The modern-day composer refuses to die!” Varèse specialized in the use of non-musical instruments such as air raid sirens and sleigh bells, which are heard in this piece. I can’t say in all honesty that I’ve ever liked any of his pieces I’ve heard, and since I’ve “experienced” Amériques before I felt that I knew what to expect, but to my surprise Baldini actually pulls the music together better than I’ve ever heard it before.

All in all, then, an interesting disc with some excellent pieces and performances on it. If you have a taste for the outré in modern music, this is the place to be!

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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