The Strad Issue: January 2011
Description: An intriguing marriage of Baroque and Minimalism from an American icon
Musicians: Robert McDuffie (violin) London Philharmonic Orchestra/Marin Alsop
Composer: Glass

As a response to a request from Robert McDuffie to write a companion piece to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Philip Glass’s Second Violin Concerto, which he completed in the autumn of 2009, is enigmatic. After the brief prologue, four accompanied movements alternate with three solo ‘songs’. Glass leaves the listener to make up their own mind as to which season opens the work. Stylistically, Glass uses his now familiar extended form of Minimalism to underpin long lyrical passages of considerable beauty – the work lasts just over 40 minutes.

Glass sets the scene with a solo passage that owes more to Bach than Vivaldi, and it is interesting to hear how Baroque and Minimalism so readily combine. From a technical point of view the success of the performance owes much to McDuffie’s unfailingly accurate intonation, particularly in the many passages of double-stopping, while his left-hand dexterity ensures that the many rapid cross-string passages retain total clarity. The London Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Marin Alsop performs the repetitious figuration with the strict rhythmic accuracy on which the music depends.

Taken live from the concerto’s April 2010 European premiere in London’s Royal Festival Hall, the sound and balance are very good.