Robert Kyr: Violin Concerto Trilogy
New Albion

Robert Kyr's thoroughly inviting trilogy of violin concerti enacts three spiritual 'voyages' with the violinist in each case exploring sonic landscapes corresponding to archetypal themes of love, harmony, and peace. Enhancing the collection's appeal, each work exudes a different character—the first lyrical, the second boisterous, the third a combination of both—plus the instrumentation changes, with the violinist accompanied by the Third Angle New Music Ensemble in the outer concerti and a Balinese gamelan group alongside a chamber orchestra in the second.

Performed by soloist Denise Huizenga and string orchestra, the first concerto (On the Nature of Love, 1996) presents thirteen variations on the hymn tune “What Wond'rous Love is This” with the music's four parts representing relationship phases: attraction, courtship, uniting, and celebrating. A lyrical, often solemn tone colours much of the writing with Huizenga weaving sinuously through the austere string passages, yet contrasts emerge too, such as playful dance rhythms that brighten part II. Kyr seamlessly merges the conceptual and compositional throughout. In part III's fugue, for example, the sinuous spiral of contrapuntal playing deftly symbolizes the 'uniting' idea.

The second work (On the Nature of Harmony, 1998), also in three movements with each a set of variations, 'harmonizes' an unorthodox 'world orchestra' drawn from the West (Euro-American orchestral instruments) and East (Balinese gamelan players). One might expect a discordant outcome, given their diametrically opposed tunings, but any potential discord, in the first part at least, is minimized by Kyr's decision to alternate the groups, with violinist Ron Blessinger gliding o'ertop as a bridging element. The two groups' sounds are synthesized in the more lyrical central movement and jubilant dance finale, however, making for a more captivating result. (Interestingly, the singular jarring moment arrives with the excessive fortissimo of the work's concluding notes.)

Kyr's splendid disc concludes with the most extroverted concerto of the three (On the Nature of Peace, 2002), the ensemble now reduced to violin and chamber orchestra only. Consistent with its 'conflict' theme, the dramatic opening movement verges on combustible, whereas the elegiac second attempts to recover from its intensity, the violin now a mourner lamenting the violence of the opening. Bells and triangles lend the concluding 'reconciliation' movement an ethereal air during a meditative middle section but its general character is sprightly and energetic.

Needless to say, the collection offers a striking overview of Kyr's sumptuous work. The album not only impresses on grounds of conceptual richness, musicality, and invention, but admirably refrains from settling into predictable patterns. In addition, it retains its credibility as a 'modern' classical release without sacrificing accessibility—no small accomplishment.

July 2006