- Concerto for Violin & Orchestra
- Rituals, for 5 percussionists & orchestra
An accomplished violinist before becoming a full-time composer, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich is undoubtedly qualified to compose a virtuoso concerto for the instrument, and she may be forgiven for indulging in some phenomenal displays of technique. Yet what sticks in the mind after hearing her "Concerto for violin and orchestra" (1998) is less of the work's showiness and rather more of the music's poignance and darkness; the first two movements are slow and quite expressive, and only the finale is a vehicle for flashy exhibition. The solo part seems intended to be emotionally gratifying, rather than merely for show, and violinist Pamela Frank delivers its lines with impassioned expression and richly resonant timbres; clearly, Zwilich's writing elicits a warm response in Frank's expressive tone and full bowing, but also seems to have touched emotions in the lustrous Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Stern. Somewhat more forbidding and colder in tone is "Rituals for five percussionists and orchestra" (2002), which is delivered with great intensity and even ferocity by Nexus and the IRIS Chamber Orchestra. Though it hits with considerable force and is perhaps more intellectually challenging than the concerto, this piece is less emotionally satisfying, and is less convincing for its occasional lapses into kitsch. Naxos' sound quality is fine in the concerto, but is annoyingly boosted in "Rituals."