Here are three engagingly expressive recent concertos by George Tsontakis (b1951), each with an evocative title. According to the composer’s notes, True Colors for trumpet and orchestra (2012) refers in part to the ‘true’ or ‘primary’ colours of the work’s essential harmonic motifs – colours that are then blended, like paint, to create a broader, richer palette. A concise Prologue, built upon echoing, chime-like figures, begins optimistically in a style redolent of Copland and Bernstein but soon suggests more disquieted, expressionistic imagery. The substantial second movement, entitled ‘Magic Act’, also starts brightly before veering into edgier, jazz-inspired territory, the colours gradually becoming darker and more saturated. True Colors was written for Eric Berlin, principal trumpet of the Albany Symphony, and he plays it vividly here.
Anasa (2011) is the Greek word for breath, and this clarinet concerto comes to life with an audible, animalistic exhalation from the solo instrument. It was composed for David Krakauer, best known for his work with the Klezmatics, and Tsontakis weaves elements of klezmer music into the score. But, as harmonic colours were blended in the trumpet concerto, here klezmer is blended with traditional music from Crete, the composer’s ancestral home. Whatever the mixture lacks in ethnic specificity it makes up for in expressive power and breadth. At times, the music carouses raucously, but at its essence Anasa is contemplative, even lonely. The expansive slow movement is full of brooding, aching melancholy. In the mournful dance beginning at 6'43", for example, note how Krakauer’s richly articulate eloquence makes one expect his clarinet to burst into songlike speech at any moment.
In his First Violin Concerto (2002), Tsontakis blatantly – and scornfully – quoted popular tunes. Unforgettable, for two violins and orchestra (2013), makes subtle, yearningly nostalgic reference to Nat King Cole’s hit song of that title (listen at 3'40" in the final movement). The two solo parts, originally written for Jennifer and Angela Chun, are intricately and inextricably woven together, as in Bach’s Double Concerto. But where Bach’s work is like a pas de deux with hands elegantly joined, Tsontakis’s is a sinuous, sorrowful dance of conjoined twins. Luosha Fang and Eunice Kim home in on the music’s sweetly tragic tone and the Albany Symphony play with finesse and emotional heft for David Alan Miller.