"About my favorite composer in the world" is how ASO leader David Alan Miller described Michael Torke this past January. The occasion was the premiere of "Sky," a bluegrass infused concerto written for the marvelous young American violinist Tessa Lark. That piece leads off a new all-Torke disc featuring four recent concertos. Sometimes recordings sit in the can for years before reaching the public, but the ASO and Albany Records got this one out in record time.
Bluegrass and other styles of Americana are part of the musical heritage of Lark, who grew up in Kentucky, and Torke picks up the downhome language with ease. The opening movement of "Sky" has Lark fiddling away in a fast tempo and limited melodic range. The orchestra shadows and embellishes but also interjects now and then with heavy yet crisp stomps. In playing these shifting extremes of dainty and blatant, the ASO and Miller show true mastery.
Of course Lark is the star of the piece and Torke keeps her darn busy. Though there's no genuine cadenza, she gets plenty of opportunity to shine, especially in the lyric central movement. As with any Torke piece, the pace never really let's up. At the conclusion of the 24-minute piece, you're pleasantly worn out, like at the end of an evening-long hoedown.
By the way, if you're a fan of Lark, who has twice given recitals for the Troy Chromatics, she's got two more recordings coming out this fall. "Fantasy" will be Lark's first solo disc. She's joined on it by pianist Amy Yang for a program of Telemann, Schubert, Kreisler and Ravel, plus her own "Appalachian Fantasy" (available at firsthandrecords.com). "Invention" finds her partnering with bassist and composer Michael Thurber playing Bach's Two Part Inventions and original material (available at larkandthurber.com).