Classical CD Reviews
BERNSTEIN: Serenade; MCLEAN: Elements – Brian Lewis, violin/ London Symphony Orchestra/ Hugh Wolff, conductor – Delos
Published on December 26, 2007
Mr. Lewis is a young American violinist who teaches at the University of Texas at Austin. His tone is sweet and rich, and his technique seems secure for the most part, though I do detect some places, particularly in the Bernstein, where a certain uncertainty grasps his high notes. The Bernstein is perhaps the greatest instrumental piece the composer ever penned, though it must also be admitted that year by year his stature as a composer only grows greater. But this one is special, and it alone would keep his name alive in the repertory. Hugh Wolff provides decent, if somewhat tepid support, the London Symphony playing as well as they normally do, but somewhat not as inspired as on their recording with Andre Previn and Anne-Sophie Mutter in this same work. Doing a back-to-back comparison shows the DGG recording to have more vibrancy and presence, more enthusiastic playing by the violinist, and a more pointed and sympathetic accompaniment by a conductor who knows this music better than Wolff does.
The Elements by Michael McLean is a real find, a wonderful piece that attempts a tonal picture of the four elements, earth, fire, air, and water. My wife walked in when I was first hearing this—herself a violinist—and commented on the beauty of the music, engaging, gratifying, and very satisfying. It is tonal of course, though the composer makes allusions to other systems, but in a way that disguises the origins. But I feel that this work should be picked up by other performers, and will be an immediate winner among audiences everywhere. What Lewis lacked in the Bernstein comes alive here, and this is a superb performance.
The Delos recording is clear, and very warm, but lacks some of the punch I am used to from their other recordings. It almost sounds like an analog recording, rich in that method’s warmth and beauty, but lacking in digital clarity and forcefulness. I found that a volume boost helped to some extent, but again, comparing it with the above-mentioned DGG shows that the yellow label has more detail and information. Nevertheless, this is not a bad recording by any stretch of the imagination – just a little different, and well worth it for the McLean. I would not recommend it as an only recording of the Bernstein work.
— Steven Ritter