Classical Music Album Review: Violinist Randall Goosby Plays Concertos by Max Bruch and Florence Price

By Jonathan Blumhofer

Randall Goosby’s sophomore album proves that the violinist is the real deal.

There’s no doubt that Randall Goosby is an artist to watch. The violinist’s sophomore album (on Decca), which pairs concertos by Max Bruch and Florence Price, demonstrates all the technical and expressive qualities evinced on his debut recording, Roots: playing that’s note-perfect, directly expressive, never overwrought, and smartly shaped. This guy’s the real deal.

His performance of the Bruch G-minor Concerto is old school in all the best ways. Goosby’s playing is consistently fluent and lyrical. Rhythmically, he’s on point but never to the point of aggression or losing touch with the music’s dancing impetus — which comes across most impressively in his ebullient account of the finale.

Tonally, Goosby’s playing is sweet without becoming cloying. The rhapsodic opening is ever fervent and the Adagio sings with clear-eyed beauty. Taken with the limber, energetic, well-balanced accompaniments of the Philadelphia Orchestra led by Yannick-Nézet Séguin, this is as inviting a Bruch First Concerto as we’ve seen in recent years.

A similar approach marks Goosby’s and the Philadelphians’ approach to the Price selections, although here the musical results are more mixed. Indeed, the recent Price renaissance is, in some ways, vindicating W. W. Jacobs’s maxim to be careful what you wish for: a compelling personal story doesn’t necessarily result in great symphonic music, and shortcomings that might be excused in performances (and recordings) by non-top-tier musicians are harder to overlook when artists of the present caliber take up these works.

So it goes with Price’s Violin Concerto No. 1, a score that simply doesn’t justify itself. The structure is bloated and unwieldy, the melodic writing second rate, and the solo part proves only fitfully engaging. What’s more, the music’s echoes of and allusions to the Tchaikovsky Concerto help it not a bit: those only serve to highlight its peripatetic form, choppy phrasings, and lack of memorable tunes.

Better is the Concerto No. 2, which Price completed a few months before her untimely death in 1953. True, there are still echoes of Tchaikovsky in it. But the music’s compacted architecture (everything’s compressed into about 15 minutes) supplies a welcome focus. What’s more, the solo part is far more idiomatic and showier than her earlier effort in the genre. If the composer’s issues with pacing and transitions remain problematic, her ear for instrumental color and an ability to find the apt melodic line tend to win out.

Either way, there’s nothing to complain about in Goosby’s performances (or that of the Philadelphians). True, the Concerto No. 1 lumbers along; mercifully, its wholly unnecessary first-movement exposition repeat is skipped. But in the Second, the Korngold-esque quality of some of Price’s writing shines through. To be sure, in this, as in the arrangement of her song “Adoration,” which serves as filler, Goosby, Nézet-Séguin, and the orchestra sound as satisfying as such combinations get.

Jonathan Blumhofer is a composer and violist who has been active in the greater Boston area since 2004. His music has received numerous awards and been performed by various ensembles, including the American Composers Orchestra, Kiev Philharmonic, Camerata Chicago, Xanthos Ensemble, and Juventas New Music Group. Since receiving his doctorate from Boston University in 2010, Jon has taught at Clark University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and online for the University of Phoenix, in addition to writing music criticism for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

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