It is only since the middle of the 20th century that percussionists have taken off as the soloists in concertos. With so little from the past in competition, contemporary composers have enjoyed open season in writing concertos for every kind of percussion instrument.
Celebrity percussionists like Evelyn Glennie and Colin Currie have led the way, commissioning new works for multiple combinations. Some of the concertos have been highly entertaining to watch, as the soloist dashes from one instrument to another across the stage.
This disc has more modest ambitions. Glennie has brought together three 21st-century works, all featuring mallet instruments, like the xylophone and vibraphone, which are struck to produce tuned sounds.
The main attraction is the Mallet Concerto by Ned Rorem, written in 2003. Rorem is best known for his songs and his lyrical gift shines through in haunting wisps of melody. He packs a lot into half an hour and Glennie handles her four instruments — vibraphone, glockenspiel, marimba and xylophone — with virtuosic flair.
The Marimba Concerto by Alexis Alrich is rather pale by comparison, relying on echoes of folk traditions, especially Mexican, to spice up its atmosphere. Karl Jenkins’s La Folia for marimba and strings thoughtfully embellishes variations on a Baroque theme. Glennie sparkles throughout, but a stronger profile from the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong under Jean Thorel would have been welcome.
‘Concertos for Mallet Instruments’ is released by Naxos