Joan Tower – Violin Concerto

This new release serves up three outstanding orchestral works by American composer Joan Tower.

Stroke is a 2010 musical portrait of a stroke, and the disruptive effect it has on the victim. Tower’s music upends itself early on, and over the course of the piece moves through several violent emotions before settling on serene acceptance of the new norm.

The earliest work on the album is the 1991 Violin Concerto. This single-movement piece was originally composed for violinist Elmar Oliveria. In this recording, Cho-Liang Lin is the featured soloist. Lin has an intense style that imbues his performance with a frantic energy that gives the entire work a sense of urgency — and to good effect. While Lin’s style may differ from Oliveria’s his interpretation is no less valid.

The Chamber Dance, to my ears, seems like a kind of a concerto for orchestra. Over the course of the 16-minute work, each instrument (and instrumental combination) is showcased. Originally written in 2006 for the Orpheus Ensemble, the work betrays its origin as a piece for leaderless orchestra. In such an organization, all players are equal — and the Chamber Dance gives everyone equal time to shine. The piece moves through various orchestral textures and colors in kaleidoscopic fashion. Underneath it all is a thematic framework with a clear sense of direction, giving the work substance as well as glitter.

A colleague of mine calls Joan Tower one of the greatest living composers. After hearing this release, I can’t argue with him.

Joan Tower: Violin Concerto; Stroke; Chamber Dance
Cho-Liang Lin, violin; Nashville Symphony; Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor
Naxos 8.559775

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