At the end of the 2013–2014 season, violinist Glenn Dicterow completed his tenure as Concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, a position he had held since 1980. He has now moved on the University of Southern California, where he is the first member of the faculty of the Thornton School of Music to hold the Robert Mann Endowed Chair in Violin and Chamber music. During his time in New York, Dicterow had many opportunities to appear as soloist; so, at the beginning of this past June, the orchestra used its New York Philharmonic recording label to release The Glenn Dicterow Collection, a three-volume compilation surveying eleven composers and eight conductors with a little more than four and one-quarter hours of music, all recorded during concert performances.
Curiously, only the first volume in the set has been released as a CD. The complete collection, along with an accompanying booklet in PDF, may be downloaded from ClassicsOnline. One reason for this approach may be that the duration of the second and third volumes (almost 94 minutes and almost 86 minutes, respectively) both exceed normal audio CD capacity. This may also have been a move calculated to appeal to those music lovers making the transition to personal devices in favor of “old school” audio equipment.
The most important thing to note about this collection concerns what is missing. None of the “big four” concertos (by Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky) are included. This is decidedly not a “warhorses and other favorites” collection. The closest one gets to a warhorse is found on the opening tracks of the first volume, Max Bruch’s Opus 26 concerto in G minor.
I, for one, was delighted with this shift in priorities. My only opportunity to listen to Dicterow as a concerto soloist took place in May of 2012, when the New York Philharmonic participated in the American Orchestra Series of concerts by visiting ensembles arranged to celebrate the Centennial Season of the San Francisco Symphony. With Alan Gilbert on the podium, Dicterow performed Béla Bartók’s first violin concerto, a composition so overshadowed by Bartók’s second violin concerto that it was not published until 1958, over a decade after the composer’s death.
The earlier concerto was a product of intense infatuation with the violinist Stefi Geyer; and Bartók, himself, hid the score after his love was not requited. Nevertheless, the opening theme was repurposed for the first of his two Opus 5 “portraits” for orchestra, in which form it probably came to the attention of Vladimir Dukelsky, a young Russian composer who, like Sergei Prokofiev, had been exercising his creative talents in Paris composing for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. However, when Prokofiev headed back to Russia, Dukelsky moved on to New York, where he became known as Vernon Duke. This would make the appearance of Bartók’s theme in “I Can’t Get Started” no mere coincidence!
According to my records, Dicterow performed the first Bartók concerto in Avery Fisher Hall right after the Philharmonic returned from their visit to San Francisco. As a result, this would have to be my favorite selection in the entire collection, if only for purely personal reasons. I say “if only” so as not to neglect the intense expressiveness from both Dicterow and Gilbert that went into this performance. This recording makes a solid case that this particular concerto deserves more than hiding in the shadow cast by Bartók’s second concerto.
The other concerto that is seldom encountered is Karol Szymanowski’s Opus 35, also a first violin concerto. This was recorded in Avery Fisher in January of 2004 with Kurt Masur conducting. It is a single-movement concerto that shimmers with some of the most imaginative orchestral sonorities in the album. This is not to detract from Dicterow’s contribution to the performance, but it may well stand as the most impressive integration of solo and ensemble work to be encountered in the collection.
The most recent recorded work is Aaron Jay Kernis’ “Lament and Prayer,” composed in 1996 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Holocaust. The recording comes from at concerts given in January of 2005 with Lorin Maazel conducting. It also couples with a brief performance of the opening theme music John Williams composed for the film Schindler’s List, recorded at concerts from April of 2006 that Williams conducted.
However, across the entire collection there is a general preference for the earlier twentieth century with concertos by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (David Robertson conducting), Samuel Barber (Masur), Prokofiev (Zubin Mehta), and Dmitri Shostakovich (conducted by the composer’s son Maxim), along with Leonard Bernstein conducting his serenade based on Plato’s “Symposium” during the 1986 Blossom Music Festival. Even the only “encore” selection was composed in 1946, Franz Waxman’s “Carmen Fantasie” with Mehta (Who else could summon up the full measure of schmaltz this piece requires?) conducting at a concert on January 13, 1990.
Overall, this is an impressive collection that gets away from most of the usual standard offerings. As a soloist Dicterow always seem to home in on just the right expressive stance to take for each of these compositions. As a performer, he always draws upon his capacity as a concertmaster to establish a rich communicative link with the conductor. The result is a series of performances in which the entire ensemble leaves just as deep an impression as the featured soloist.