Todd Mason: Violin Concerto; Chamber Suite. © 2023 Todd Mason

CD Spotlight

Expressive and Virtuosic

Music by Todd Mason, enjoyed by GEOFF PEARCE

'The Budapest Scoring Orchestra, conductor Péter Illényi and soloist Tosca Opdam are all very committed to this music and obviously enjoy performing it.'


I had not heard of Todd Mason (born 1957) or his music before, but he had some fine teachers, including Roger Sessions and Elliot Carter, both composers I have admiration for. Some of his music has been performed by fine ensembles and I was eager to listen to this Ulysses Arts recording, Todd Mason: Violin Concerto and Chamber Suite, which was available to me via a streaming link. The notes on the works were written by the composer.

The Violin Concerto (2022) was written during the lockdown period of the Covid epidemic and is here performed by the very fine Dutch violinist Tosca Opdam, a performer I had not heard before.

The concerto is in a single twenty-four minute movement. Whilst unmistakably a modern work, the piece is very listenable, and has many changes of mood over its length, from great energy and drive, to more peaceful and tranquil moments. There are strong melodic passages, and whilst you will probably not be whistling or humming them, there are some very beautiful passages and the writing for the solo instrument is both expressive and virtuosic. I like how tensions are built and then beautifully resolved.

Listen — Todd Mason: Violin Concerto
(UA230080 track 1, 2:01-2:43) ℗ 2023 Ulysses Arts Ltd:

The work has a form and shape to it, and is free of pretention. The orchestration is very skilful and effective, and I like that the composer has not thrown the whole kitchen sink in, just to impress, but the instrumental sound has been chosen with care, to not only paint the atmosphere but also with regards to the soloist. The textures are not too dense, or too sparse, and there are cadenza-like passages, and also periods where the orchestra predominates.

Listen — Todd Mason: Violin Concerto
(UA230080 track 1, 8:04-8:47) ℗ 2023 Ulysses Arts Ltd:

The work is never boring and I think even those that do not like 'modern music' will find something in this concerto to enjoy. The soloist is impressive, employing a very solid technique and a ravishing sound, and the orchestra, which has players drawn from a number of other orchestras, is very good too. A quote from a critic at the top of the booklet says that this concerto follows a line from Berg and Bartók, and I do not think that is far from the truth, and would like to see this piece performed often.

Listen — Todd Mason: Violin Concerto
(UA230080 track 1, 18:54-19:45) ℗ 2023 Ulysses Arts Ltd:

The Chamber Suite for string orchestra (2020) is a reworking of his earlier String Quartet No 2. It is in three movements, each of about five minutes in duration. Again, the musical language is concise and lush in places, although certainly contemporary, but reminding me of some of the fine string works of English composers of the early middle twentieth century. The composer stated that he was particularly influenced by the listening of Bartók and Janáček.

The first movement has energy and is quirky, because the time signature of 7/8 was chosen. There is a quieter middle section which was inspired by Armenian folk tunes that the composer had enjoyed, so he sought to emulate that here.

Listen — Todd Mason: Allegro deciso (Chamber Suite)
(UA230080 track 2, 2:26-3:07) ℗ 2023 Ulysses Arts Ltd:

The second movement is slow and quite beautiful, although there are certainly moments of harmonic tension. I like this movement very much and find it quite emotionally satisfying, reflective and thoughtful.

Listen — Todd Mason: Espressivo (Chamber Suite)
(UA230080 track 3, 1:37-2:34) ℗ 2023 Ulysses Arts Ltd:

The third movement is a fitting contrast to the generally tranquil nature of the second and is a spirited dance-like piece with a 'raw' energy which is maintained right until the end.

Listen — Todd Mason: Spirito (Chamber Suite)
(UA230080 track 4, 1:35-2:20) ℗ 2023 Ulysses Arts Ltd:

The Budapest Scoring Orchestra, conductor Péter Illényi and soloist Tosca Opdam are all very committed to this music and obviously enjoy performing it. Because, although modern, these two works are sincere, well crafted and free from gimmicks, I find them very enjoyable, as will, I am sure, the vast majority of people who will hear this recording. The album is not overly generous in length, but makes up for this with the quality of music presented.

Copyright © 8 September 2023 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia



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