The unpublished manuscript of Sholom Secunda’s Fantasia for Violin and Orchestra was discovered among the composer’s papers in the course of the Milken Archive research. Contrary to the indication on that manuscript, this is not an actual violin concerto in the conventional, formal sense of that generic designation. Rather, it is a poem—a poetic fantasia—for violin and orchestra, which quotes and develops phrases and motifs of the traditional biblical cantillations reserved in Ashkenazi custom for the High Holy Days. It also leans heavily on the composer’s own string quartet (Volume 10)—especially the quartet’s last movement. In some respects, parts of this fantasia represent the composer’s transcription of the quartet finale for new orchestral and soloistic forces, this time featuring some of the virtuoso possibilities of the solo violin. Except for two virtuoso cadenzas for violin—one at the beginning and another toward the conclusion of the piece—much of the melodic material, as well as the way in which it is manipulated, is taken directly from the quartet’s final movement.
Introduced by the brass with two brief motives reminiscent of shofar “calls,” the violin takes these as a cue for an excursion into the first cadenza, which gives the feeling of immediate flight and then of soaring. The cadenza flows into a dance tune (also taken from the fourth movement of the string quartet) whose rhythmic identity centers around its six eighth notes with a “Scotch [Scottish] snap” (Lombard rhythm; a type of reversed dotting, where the short notes in a succession of dotted figures are on the beat). The violin and orchestra exchange, alternate, and interchange this material with more romantic melodic lines that somehow have an aura of nostalgia. Each repetition brings additional ornamentation, providing a gradual and consistent increase in emotional intensity.
The orchestration is simple, idiomatic, and straightforward, with little in the way of real invention. Still, the repeated figures of solo violin lines are varied throughout the piece, giving it ample color. As in the string quartet, the quotation of a well-known melody associated with ḥatzi kaddish of the musaf services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur recurs toward the end. It is followed by the second virtuoso violin cadenza, which in turn leads to a brilliant, fast-paced conclusion, not unlike a fanfare.
The manuscript required substantial editing and reconstruction in order to enable performance and recording of the work. This tedious task was graciously undertaken by the internationally renowned American composer Samuel Adler expressly for the Milken Archive recording session.
Performers: Elmar Oliveira, Violin; Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin; Gerard Schwarz, Conductor
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