Review By Harry Rolnick,The Classical Music Network,August 2008
The second violin concerto, which has been recorded several times, hardly fits into any category. At first, you think of Brahms, but the melodies are a bit too sweet. Then Max Bruch, but hardly as saccharine. The concerto is “well-made”, like so many late 19th Century virtuoso works, but this was md-20th-century. What we do find, under Mr. Ludwig, is a piece of late romanticism, which begins with a cadenza, and continues with two or three more dazzling solos, along with the most lush soaring themes. The following movement, less than four movements long, is a bumptious romp. (The double-stopping centre is close to a Brahms Hungarian dance, but hardly Hungarian.) The last two movements bear all the tricks of the well-trained composer, including several delightful
That work, written in Florida, is supposedly more “mature”. But give me the first concerto, written in 1915! The atmosphere is more mysterious, the tunes a bit stranger, the orchestral atmosphere a bit swampy, almost cinematic. Of course “movie music” wasn’t composed until 18 years later, so the atmosphere starts with true originality. By the time of the finale, one feels again that this is merely a well-constructed work, working in various fugues and canons. Dohanányi, though, does have a wonderful way with solo orchestra instruments, and his little obbligati for winds give it as much color as the violin itself. To me, the most stunning part of the whole disk is a cadenza at the end of this concerto accompanied first by solo French and then an orchestral fugato as Mr. Ludwig plays above it. Michael Ludwig is no ordinary soloist. Now First Chair with the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra, he has managed to fit in concertos with the Chicago and Philadelphia orchestra, with recitals around the world and several recordings. I have never heard him live, but he is obviously not afraid to take chances with his repertory. Nor does he stint on his playing, which is broad, bravura when necessary, and with a grand sweep. His virtuosity is evident in both works here.
The Royal Scottish Orchestra well deserves its sobriquet, with soaring horn calls, a classic trumpet solo in the second concerto, some liquid winds, and, under JoAnn Falletta, a conductor who gives as much verve to her orchestra as her soloist gives to the music.
The recording by Naxos is well focused, and the program notes by Keith Anderson—Naxos’ very first annotator—are, as always, informative and detailed. Not that the music needs such detail. It is as accessible as Bruch, as rich at times as Brahms, and has enough fireworks to inspire both soloist and audience.