RECORDINGS & EVENTS A special eight-page section for readers in the US and Canada talks to… Elmira Darvarova The US-based violinist on resurrecting Vernon Duke’s Violin Concerto
How did you encounter Vernon Duke? As a classical composer, Vladimir Dukelsky wrote ballets and concert music. But he’s better known for his work for Broadway and Hollywood – Gershwin encouraged him in this area, and even suggested he change his name. In the late 1990s the conductor and pianist Scott Dunn orchestrated the neglected Piano Concerto which Duke had written for Rubinstein. Then I became interested in the violin and chamber music works and, in 2009, I gave the New York premiere, with Scott, of Duke’s Violin Sonata. Since then we’ve been performing the chamber works – as well as the Violin Concerto with piano accompaniment – all over the place ahead of this recording. The Concerto has an interesting back-story… It was an unofficial commission by Jascha Heifetz. When it was finished, he said to Duke: ‘I do not find it completely to my satisfaction.’ It’s a brilliant work that rivals the Prokofiev and Stravinsky concertos, so Heifetz must have had an ulterior motive. Perhaps he didn’t want to pay the commission. It was premiered in Boston in 1943 by Ruth Posselt and received glowing reviews but was then scheduled to be conducted in New York by Bernstein. Perhaps Rodzinski was feeling threatened by Bernstein’s rising star, because at the last minute he insisted he conduct it. He hadn’t rehearsed it, there were bad reviews, and Duke, who was there, said it was a ‘terrible day’. Thus the work suffered a premature demise. Why does the work deserve to be heard? I adore the concerto, and it should enjoy a great comeback. Duke had this double persona as a composer because of the influences he had absorbed from Broadway and Hollywood, and I can hear both sides in this concerto, which makes it very unique. The Violin Sonata is also significant… It was commissioned by the Polish violinist Roman Totenberg but he only played it once and eventually Duke dedicated it to his friend Israel Baker. It’s very challenging, almost like a mini concerto. There are all these grand gestures and yet it’s fun to play, too, albeit very difficult! Duke’s unbelievable erudition and competence shine through.
You discovered the Hommage to Offenbach in the Library of Congress… During my discussions with Duke’s widow, Kay Duke Ingalls (who, along with Ruth Posselt’s daughter, Diana Burgin, helped make this CD possible), this piece wasn’t mentioned at all, so I was surprised to come across it. The ‘Bridge of Sighs’ movement is a homage to The Tales of Hoffmann and, as a former Met concertmaster, I am always fascinated by pieces with operatic connections. What makes Duke’s music significant? It’s immediately stunning. While Prokofiev’s concertos possibly need more than one listen to take to, Duke’s brilliance makes an immediate impression and his tunes stay with you.
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V Duke Violin Concertoa. Violin Sonatab. Hommage to Offenbachc. Etuded. Capriccio méxicanoc ab Elmira Darvarova vn dKim Laskowski bn a ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra, Vienna / Scott Dunn bcpf Urlicht Audiovisual F UAV5990 (79’ • DDD)
Vladimir Alexandrovich Dukelsky wanted to be taken seriously as a composer, but it wasn’t easy. Better known as Vernon Duke, the name George Gershwin suggested the Russian‑born musician adopt in America,
he thrived as the composer of Broadway scores and such instant classic songs as ‘April in Paris’ and ‘Autumn in New York’. Yet amid the popular hits, Duke continued to work in the concert realm, the arena of this appealing and necessary disc of his complete violin music.
There are moments when Broadway, jazz and national influences can be heard in these works but Duke (1903‑69) was his own compositional spirit. A student in his teens of Reinhold Glière in Kiev, he absorbed the rudiments of his craft and employed them with great skill. The most ambitious work here is the Violin Concerto from 1940‑41, a three‑movement score reminiscent of Prokofiev in soaring lyricism and potent drama but also tinged with distinctive harmonic touches.
It’s an impressive piece that deserves to be heard, which is also true of the Sonata in D major for violin and piano (1948‑49), another work with Russian roots and full of expressive ardour and infectious wit. Duke’s gifts as a miniaturist are on ample display in the charming Etude for violin and bassoon and the flavourful Hommage to Offenbach. For spicier activity, there’s Capriccio méxicano, bursting with rhythmic twists and invigorating folk writing.
Violinist Elmira Darvarova makes charismatic work of Duke’s challenges on both grand and intimate scales, and she teams to colourful effect with bassoonist Kim gramophone.co.uk
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