Danny Elfman is best known as a prolific composer of major offbeat film scores, such as the Tim Burton's Beetlejuice, Nightmare before Christmas, Alice in Wonderland, and Edward Scissorhands, and Hellboy, Batman, Justice League, Dumbo, but also Milk and Mission Impossible (and the theme to The Simpsons). Elfman began as a rock musician: The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. His classical works are a new venture, having pushed into his 60s and needing a change in his musical development. One would thereby expect that his Violin Concerto would be somewhat cinematic, romantic and dramatic, or full of edgy, suspenseful moments; it isn't. Challenged to write the concerto for Sandy Cameron, who performs here, Elfman sought guidance in the examples of Prokoviev, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky, and indeed the first and fourth movements have the sweep of a great romantic work. The piece is 1,111 measures long (hence the subtitle). The two inner movements, however, are more modern in scope. The second movement, influenced by Philip Glass and especially the Hitchcock scores of Bernard Herrmann, includes a cadenza characterized as a dialogue of violin and the percussion section. The slow third movement begins sparse and develops lyrically with touches of unease and sadness. The concerto concludes with some spunk and irony (eh, Igor and Dimitri?). Elfman worked closely with Cameron to write technically difficult and diverse parts for the violin; together they have produced a grand, certainly to be popular concerto with something for nearly everyone.
The real surprise of this album is the chamber work, a piano quartet. Elfman was definitely in a strange place when asked to consider the task, but the inclusion of a piano provided some freedom. The 5-section piece, performed by members of the Berlin Philharmonic and pianist Markus Groh, is remarkably complex, classical, and modern with no traces of movie styles. Elfman, however, reaches back to childhood in the second movement with the sing-song taunt we all know, probably the first to do so for a classical composition. Elfman was at the time groovin' with the Shostokovich quartets and he must have been inspired. Elfman is a brilliant autoditact, and this new direction ("to keep my sanity," he wrote) is to be applauded.
Having attended a live performance by this same soloist and orchestra, I found and ordered this CD.
The concerto is large, lyrical, and bombastic, and the performance is electrifying. The booklet contains marvelous information about the composer, the soloist, and the process which led to the composition. The recording itself is rich and full, given the difficulty of pitting a solo violin against a very large accompanying orchestra.
At one point in the second (of four) movements, the solo violin duels with a percussion section of six players. It's both eerie and amazing. At other points, this is the most savage violin playing I've ever herd, and I'm really old.
If you favor violin concertos or large scale orchestral works or clear, powerful, modern recordings, get this CD!
Thank you Danny Elfman. Thank you for renewing my faith that beautiful music can still be composed in the 21st century. Brazen percussion theme throughout while Sandy Cameron attempts to set her violin on fire and elements of Mr. Elfmans familar tone are ever present. Not sure what the number eleven represents but I cant wait for twelve.
Danny Elfman (1953-) has had a varied and successful musical career working in diverse areas. From his days as lead singer and songwriter for Oingo Boingo, he has cultivated his love of film music into a successful career having scored numerous films and television shows.
Now a great divide seems to exist between composers who score films and composers who compose for the concert hall. Few have demonstrated the ability to be successful in both arenas. Erich Wolfgang Korngold is a notable exception as is Aaron Copland. Both men have succeeded rather famously in both film and classical concert hall music. In fact John Williams, though known primarily as a film and television composer has written quite a bit for the concert hall as well.
Now here comes Danny Elfman, known best perhaps as the composer of the Simpsons them for the long running animated series. He has gotten the bug to write for the concert hall and this recording presents two major works. The first is his violin concerto “11/11)(2017) with soloist Sandy Cameron. You can read the liner notes about the composer’s obsession with the number 11 or you can relax and enjoy a genuine violin concerto, not a reworking of themes as one might expect from a lesser composer. The second is a nice addition to the chamber music repertoire, a piano quartet (2017).
The concerto is played by the wonderful Royal Scottish National Orchestra under the direction of the esteemed John Mauceri. Sandy Cameron is the soloist who handles the concertos four movements flawlessly and does justice to Elfman’s work. It’s really a beautiful piece. Only time will tell the work’s eventual place in history but we can certainly enjoy it for what it is, a good and entertaining violin concerto.
The Piano Quartet is played by the Philharmonic Piano Quartet Berlin which consists of Andreas Buschatz, violin ; Matthew Hunter, viola; Knut Weber, cello; and Marcus Groh, piano. This five movement work would happily grace any chamber music recital. It is in turn pithy, melodic, humorous, and serious.
This is stronger music than this reviewer had imagined would come from this composer’s pen. I can’t say, “If you like his film scores you’ll like his music” but there are, perhaps inevitably, snippets of his film music style which work actually quite well.