James Mathesons String Quartet was premiered by the St. Lawrence String Quartet in February 2014 and is played here by the Color Field Quartet. It’s an accessible three-movement work of decided substance, with some excellent instrumental writing and a lot of energy.
The leader of the quartet, Baird Dodge, has been principal second violin with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since 2002, and is the soloist in … Matheson’s Violin Concerto. Matheson and Dodge were roommates at college in the 1990s, and Dodge had harboured the idea of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra commissioning a violin concerto from Matheson ever since joining the orchestra. It finally came to fruition as a co-commission with the Los Angeles Philharmonic when conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen added his support.
The recording here is of the concerto’s premiere performance on December 15, 2011, in Chicago with Salonen leading the CSO with Dodge as the soloist. It’s a striking work with a virtuoso role for the soloist and some terrific orchestration. Matheson cites Messiaen, Lutosławski and Mahler as influences and acknowledges that the concerto’s slow movement was inspired by the slow movement of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, but the high bird-like figures in the violin put me more in mind of the concertos of Szymanowski. It feels like a work that will not want for future performances.
–Terry Robbins, October 25th, 2016 theWholeNote