The Violin Concerto of Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007, Italy) was commissioned in 1952 by Efrem Zimbalist, a violin soloist and, at the time, director of the Curtis Institute of Music. The piece was debuted on December 5 1952 in Philadelphia with Zimbalist and Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. The work has been recorded by Tossy Spivakovsky (1955, Boston Symphony, Munch) and more recently by Jennifer Koh in a live recording at the Spoleto Festival (2002).
Louis Biancolli, New York Telegram & Sun, 10/12/1952, described the Menotti Violin Concerto as "a fresh and vigorous piece of music, overflowing with energy and melody and whatever else it takes to complete a three-movement concerto without becoming apologetic."
Unlike much 20th century classical music which delved deeply into atonalism, twelve tone rows, and avant garde, the Menotti Concerto is quite traditional. It is very lyrical, particularly the 2nd themes of the first and third movements. While the Menotti Concerto is hardly standard repertoire, it is nevertheless a worthwhile piece to get to know. Menotti himself was quite fond of it, and fans of the Italian-American's operas will not be disappointed.
The Violin Concerto of Samuel Barber (1910-1981, Pennsylvania) was written in 1939 and debuted on February 7, 1941 (Albert Spalding, soloist, Philadelphia Orchestra, Ormandy). Unlike many American 20th C violin concertos, the Barber has established itself among the standard repertoire. The Barber Concerto is one of the most sentimental violin concertos ever written, and has been recorded by numerous artists.
Ruggiero Ricci (1918-2012, San Francisco) is well-known as a technician, having earned particular fame with the knucklebuster music of the likes of Paganini, Sarasate, and Wieniawski. But Ricci's 60-year recording legacy actually spans many different styles, from Bach to Ginastera. His recordings of the Barber and the Menotti are wonderful opportunities to hear his approach to the more romantic repertoire. Ricci tends to avoid adding his own embellishments like swooping portamento and tempo changes, preferring to let the music speak for itself. It's an approach that Toscanini would have admired,..and it works.
Keith Clark and the Pacific Symphony Orchestra get plenty of chances to show off their top-notch abilities.
My only reservation with this disc is the uneven engineering: the soloist is clearly undermiked. Turning up the volume does not help either.
This album was recorded in October 1983 at Santa Ana High School, Santa Ana, CA. It is only the 2nd recording of the Menotti Violin Concerto since Spivakovsky's 1955 record. As such, this disc has historical significance. Coupled with the ever-popular Barber, it is also a valuable addition for lovers of Ricci's brilliant violin playing as well as those interested in 20th century music.
I have listened to this disc many times now, and really enjoy it.