Leshnoff: Symphony gives voice to the VIOLINS of HOPE

Jonathan Leshnoff is a  talented composer. And his fourth symphony is a well-constructed work. It has engaging themes, nicely shaped melodies, and a fresh take on tonality. But for me, it didn’t have the desired effect.

The liner notes explain the concept of the work in great detail. The project Violins for Hope refurbishes instruments that survived the Holocaust — even when their owners did not. These instruments that were once heard in concentration camps now ring out in concert hall. That’s a concept that can stir powerful emotions.

Leshnoff’s symphony was composed for the Nashville Symphony playing the Violins of Hope. Logically, Leshnoff draws on Jewish culture for his work. The liner notes carefully delineate all the Hebrew references and inspirations in the symphony.

On paper, it’s a beautiful and inspiring concept. But I didn’t hear any of it. The Violins of Hope, despite their history, are just violins – and they sound like any other violin. Leshnoff’s symphony, despite all the Hebrew-inspired elements, doesn’t sound especially Jewish.

I liked the symphony, and the Nashville Symphony performs it well. But I would have had the same reaction even if I hadn’t read the liner notes.

The recording also includes two additional works by Leshnoff – the Guitar Concerto and his short orchestral work Starburst. Neither has an elaborate backstory, and neither needs one.

Jason Vieux plays the concerto with fire and spirit. I especially enjoyed his rapid passage-work and the ringing quality of his held notes.

In the end, it’s not the extra-musical elements that matter, only the sound. And based solely on the sound, I can recommend this recording.

Jonathan Leshnoff: Symphony No. 4 “Heichalos”
featuring the VIOLINS of HOPE
Guitar Concerto; Starburst
Jason Vieaux, guitar
Nashville Symphony; Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor
Naxos

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