John Robertson: Virtuosity a bit uneven

For me, Virtuosity was something of a mixed bag. There were many things I liked about the recording (the music), and a few things I didn’t (the playing).

As a composer, John Robertson created his own path. He was mostly self-taught, and never tapped into the various trends in contemporary music. As the liner notes say, “[his music is] strikingly tonal, pleasantly governed by time and key signatures.”

All true. Perhaps because of his outsider status, his take on tonal music doesn’t borrow from the past, nor try to imitate it. It’s authentic. And that’s good.

This release features three concertos; the Concerto for Clarinet and Strings, Hinemoa & Tutanekai for Flute and String Orchestra; and the Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra. “Virtuosity” may be the title, but none of the three concertos seem very demanding.

Robertson doesn’t ask for an extended technique or even extreme registers from his soloists. What he does ask for is tasteful musicianship to deliver his well-crafted melodies. The soloists of the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra certainly do deliver.

The concertos are quite enjoyable. And I think there’s a place for them in the repertoire. There are many levels of virtuosity, and I can see these as great choices for student and beginning professional players.

Also included is Robertson’s Symphony No. 3. It shows real growth from his previous symphonies. The orchestration especially seems more adept in this outing.

One of the negatives for me were some serious intonation problems with the orchestra’s string section. It was particularly noticeable in passages where the violin section was exposed.

John Robertson: Virtuosity
Mihail Zhivkov, clarinet; Kremara Acheva, flute; Fernando Serrano Montoya, trumpet
Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra; Anthony Armore, conductor
Navona Records NV6223

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