Wynton Marsalis’ Yummy Violin Concerto and More

I expect every lover of jazz and classical music will want to check out Decca’s new recording of jazz great Wynton Marsalis’ thoroughly engaging Violin Concerto and Fiddle Dance Suite. Both were written for the superb Nicola Benedetti, who joins with Cristian Macelaru and The Philadelphia Orchestra to give us a definitive interpretation, guided by Marsalis. In addition to the recording’s release on CD, it can be streamed on Tidal (in 16/44.1 and 24/96 MQA—the sound I prefer—albeit without liner notes) and Qobuz (24/96, with liner notes), or downloaded in hi-rez from HDTracks, ProStudio Masters, and other sites.

Honoring his deeply held desire to unite community while stretching the limits of traditional classical orchestra, Marsalis created two stylistic hybrids that meld classical, jazz, New Orleans style blues, and southern hootenanny. Some of his inspiration was drawn from the travels of the peripatetic Benedetti, who performs and teaches around the world. He also allowed her Scottish ancestry to reconnect him with what he describes as “the Anglo-Celtic roots of Afro-American music.” Frankly, I didn’t know much about those roots, but I certainly like what I hear.

My favorite tracks of the bunch—I’ve listened twice so far—are the violin concerto’s opening “Rhapsody” and closing “Hootenanny.” That first movement, which Marsalis describes “a complex dream that becomes a nightmare, progresses into peacefulness and dissolves into ancestral memory,” begins introspectively and ends with an Irish jig. There’s a lot going on, including the interjection of a police whistle and a dalliance in some pretty ominous passages, but the concerto is anything but heavy going. Its final Hootenany is not only a major virtuoso showpiece that requires Benedetti to pull out all the stops, proverbial and otherwise; it’s also filled with joy. On a recording that places Benedetti’s violin front and center, its kitchen sink ending may leave you cheering. I intend to bring this track with me room-to-room at my next audio show to check out systems while watching how many showgoers tap their feet and smile.

The Fiddle Dance Suite, whose five sections include a “Sidestep Reel” and “Bye-Bye Breakdown," is another fun-filled piece. The reel’s unusual rhythms are exciting, and the second movement, “As the Wind Goes,” is heart-touching. I especially enjoy the recording’s emphatic foot stomping at the end of the final section. At times, I wish that Marsalis’ movements were a bit more compact—he sometimes stretches musical ideas beyond their worth—but their light-filled spirit sustains interest.

As for Benedetti, she’s a wonder. The tone is meaty, solid, and a mite tangy lower down—a delicious meal all in itself—and marvelously controlled and in tune as she plays high on the violin’s bridge. The recording captures considerable air around her instrument, and other instruments that play solo passages, and conveys well the silky smoothness of the Philadelphia strings.

Anton's picture

Great review!

You could have told me this was a long lost Copeland collection and I would have believed you.

DH's picture

For download from Qobuz WITH the liner notes. One of the advantages of Qobuz.

ednazarko's picture

It's really fun to listen to. Yeah, it's got all the normal things like being well orchestrated, catchy melody lines, etc. But... it's also full of surprises. Surprising changes of rhythm, instruments, harmonic shifts, dynamics.. It's a joy to listen to, which I think was Marsalis' goal.

Simon Moond's picture

I am a lover of classical and jazz, but this does nothing form me.

If this was composed by someone other than someone with fame and celebrity of Marsalis, it would quickly fade into obscurity.

Classical music is a living, evolving art form. There is so much great, contemporary classical music being composed and recorded. Not sure why I should care about a piece that sounds like a pastiche of Copeland and Gershwin.

It angers me a bit, that this will get so much notoriety, but pieces by composers actually breaking new ground, like: Magnus Lindberg, Jennifer Higdon, Thomas Ades, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Joseph Schwantner, Augusta Read Thomas and so many others, will sell a fraction of all their recordings combined, of what this one Marsalis recording will sell.

gcvanwinkle's picture

passing the baton from one great American composer to another - or at least that's what it seems to me. Utterly delightful!

Thanks again for the heads up Jason!