Coll: Violin Concerto; Mural, etc review

The first disc devoted exclusively to orchestral music by Francisco Coll traces a neat trajectory through his development over the last decade and a half. The earliest piece here is Coll’s opus 1, Aqua Cinerea, composed in 2005 when he was 19; the most recent is his Violin Concerto, written for Patricia Kopatchinskaja in 2019. It’s been a hugely impressive development, taking the flair for vivid orchestral colouring and stark, sometimes shocking juxtapositions of imagery that was evident from the start in Coll’s music in ever more distinctive and personal directions, while never forgetting the debt his music owes to tradition, whether modernist or more specifically Spanish.

The nervy, unstable rhythms of Hidd’n Blue, first performed by the London Symphony Orchestra under Coll’s teacher Thomas Adès in 2012, largely continue where Aqua Cinerea left off. But the five-movement Mural, which followed four years later, is much more substantial, almost symphonic attempt to reconcile past and present, to build something fresh from the rubble of musical history, while the Four Iberian Miniatures, for violin and chamber orchestra, lovingly and wittily adopts the rhythms and rawness of Spanish dance from tango to flamenco.

The Violin Concerto is the fourth work that Coll has composed specifically for Kopatchinskaja since they were introduced by the conductor Gustavo Gimeno five years ago – another of those pieces was the double concerto Plairs Illuminées, which appeared on disc earlier this year. Kopatchinskaja’s extraordinary, freewheeling virtuosity appears to have unlocked a new vein of immediacy and expressiveness in Coll’s music, which the Violin Concerto seems to me to take on to another plane altogether. It’s a fabulously assured piece in three evocatively labelled movements – Atomised, Hyperhymnia, Phase – which outline the shape of a traditional concerto, complete with solo cadenza. Ligeti’s violin concerto, and more specifically Kopatchinskaja’s dazzling performances of it, seem to lie behind the pyrotechnics of the first movement, while something more deeply personal is explored in the murmuring expressiveness of the second, before the music explodes again in the anarchy of the third. It’s compelling from first note to last, and could hardly be better played by Kopatchinskaja and the Luxembourg orchestra under Gimeno.

This week’s other pick

The latest batch of releases from Another Timbre includes the fourth instalment in the label’s series devoted to the music of the US-Canadian composer Linda Catlin Smith – two pieces for cello and piano, Through the Low Hills, and Ballad, played by Anton Lukoszevieze and Kerry Yong, members of the ensemble Apartment House. The works, the first lasting 10 minutes, the second more than four times as long, clearly have a close kinship, and both rely on the careful gradations of colour and texture typical of all Catlin Smith’s music. The writing for both instruments is restrained and austere, and suggests not so much a dialogue as two monologues running in parallel. Not a lot happens, even across the expanses of Ballad, before its final collapse into unchanging, pulsing chords that seem to echo the pioneering 1960s minimalism of La Monte Young. The effect is powerfully strange.

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