RICHARD BLACKFORD (b.1954): Niobe for Violin and Orchestra.
Catalogue Number: 07U067
Description: A 25-minute violin concerto in four movements, Niobe tells the story of the wife of King Amphion of Thebes, who boasted of her progenitive superiority to the Titan, Leto, and was punished by the death of her children and her husband, and her own petrification. Blackford uses a combination of thematic transformation and an extended sonata form to present the drama in terms of a finely crafted musical argument which is formally satisfying in its own right, aside from its vivid illustration of the programmatic narrative. The first movement, prefaced by an ominous introduction - the heartless gods toying with human destiny? - portrays Niobe in a sensual theme which combines with that of Amphion and rises to an intense physical climax. In the second movement, Niobe's theme intrudes into the fertility festival in Leto's honor, and confronts and triumphs over Leto's theme, after which the storm-clouds of the goddess' anger can be heard gathering. The third movement, the most chromatic and powerful, builds to a huge, tragic climax, followed by the stunned, static finale, the violin vainly pleading as the orchestra engulfs it in stone. Only at the end, like a fly struggling against encasing amber as the composer puts it, does Niobe's theme attempt to reassert itself, but it is too late. Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin), Czech Philharmonic; Ben Gernon.