The viola has long been a favourite instrument of mine, with its mellow but rich tone and plaintive high register. It can be so expressive and somewhat melancholy but also capable of dynamic, lively ideas.
This concerto was composed for Timothy Deighton and The Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, and premiered in 2018. The four movements are played without a break:
I - adagio
II - andante-allegretto
III - cadenza and largo
IV - moto perpetua
In 1994 I wrote my first Viola Concerto for Donald Maurice and the then Dunedin Sinfonia. The concerto has enjoyed many performances since, and in 2002 Timothy Deighton made a marvellous first CD recording with the Penn State Orchestra in the USA. Tim and I have stayed in touch since then, and in 2017 he requested a new work for viola and orchestra. This concerto, using the strings of the orchestra, was the result.
It opens with a mysterious melody shared on the violins that recurs through the piece as a sort of grundgestalt (basic shape). The viola takes it up over a mournful string backing. The second movement opens very simply with child-like plucked notes underpinning a variation on the main theme. The music gradually gathers momentum and leads to a playful but edgy second theme on the solo viola, undercut by dissonances. The two themes are interspersed, the movement climaxes and the energy disperses leaving the viola playing a short cadenza over bass notes. This third movement features harmonics on viola which presents another child-like theme, this time over uneasy harmonies. As the movement fades the soloist reiterates the basic shape form the start: its strength fades, and leads to the final movement, a fleet-footed moto perpetua (perpetual motion) that leads to a catharsis at the end.
While the music is not programmatic it does traverse an emotional journey. The emphasis is not on solo virtuosity but rather an integrated relationship between soloist and orchestra.
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