Hindemith defenders, grab that closet handle and step into the party. Composer Michel van der Aa has penned your new jam, replete with prodigious leaps in register, a bouquet of minor 9th and major 7ths, and frantic bursts of virtuosity unafraid to exploit a groove. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s composer-in-residence, perhaps better known for his electronic and theatrical efforts, is not merely aping P-Hind’s crackerjack string writing and devil-may-care harmonic scope, but his Violin Concerto (2014) is certainly firing through many of the same neural pathways for listeners.
There are two elements of this "Horizon 6" album, for which the Concerto commandeers half the track list, that are most gripping. The first is soloist Janine Jansen, a violinist of considerable dynamism and mettle, who nonetheless plays here as though her career hangs in the balance. The second is van der Aa’s USDA-Prime orchestration, which manages to keep the violin unreservedly at the helm across all three movements, but also in a robust rhetoric with the soloist, allowing the composer to traverse far-flung landscapes that still play as thematic and coherent.
Delivering plush blend between string sections and vivid woodwind solos, the RCO is in tournament form throughout, as with Detlev Glanert’s Frenesia, which opens the record. In it, van der Aa’s Boosey & Hawkes roster-mate takes an abrupt left turn at the 10-minute mark in the otherwise romantic score, risking chasms of silence between unison percussion hits before low strings emerge like the first gasp of a bellows.
The other high-watermark of "Horizon 6" arrives with Luc Brewaeys’s blustery romp, Along the Shores of Lorn, a piece which whirls and catapults around the symphony as though fomenting its own funnel cloud. We’d be enticed to hear Concertgebouw stage any of these works live, but have the sneaking suspicion that the Violin Concerto will be edging its way into the canon first.
- Doyle Armbrust