Jonathan Leshnoff has a deep connection to Jewish culture. The young American composer draws inspiration for his 2017 Symphony no. 4, “Heichalos” from an ancient Hebrew text, the Heichalos Rabbasai which deals with matters of faith in a supreme being that can only be approached through understanding in gradual transitions through various “rooms” (stages) of spiritual enlightenment.

Leshnoff music, here and in the other two compositions included in the just released NAXOS (CD 8.559809) features the Nashville Symphony, conducted by Gian Carlo Guerrero, with the Violins of Hope making up the orchestra’s string section. It is intensely emotional music, brilliantly orchestrated, intrinsically melodic, yet complex structurally.

Violins of Hope is a project of concerts that utilizes vintage string instruments that belonged to Jews before and during the second world war. Many were donated by or bought from survivors; some arrived through family members. Some carry Stars of David as a decoration and as their sole identity tag.

The two-part Symphony no. 4 rejects the 19th century strictures of the Romantic symphonic format, opting instead for a fast section later contrasted with a slow, lyrical second one. Part one is titled Binah, Hebrew for understanding – its music taking on a restless ostinato pattern sustained throughout by the string section of the Nashville Symphony, that gives its rank and file a serious workout.

As if having attained enlightenment through arduous searching in part one, the second section of Leshnoff’s Fourth Symphony settles into a melodically-rich, spiritually-charged paean to a Divinity that now seems more approachable than before. The composition avoids a climactic ending, giving us calm and quietude instead.

Leshnoff wrote his Guitar Concerto in 2013, and here both its three-movement (Allegro-Adagio-Lively) structure and its gentle orchestration give Jason Vieaux’s guitar an up front and center position with which to shine against a backdrop of woodwinds and light percussion. The music is playful, the writing idiomatic and virtuosic, and the performance by Vieaux nothing short of spectacular, with the woodwind section of the Nashville Orchestra doing filigree work and maestro Guerrero keeping everyone on the same page.

Starburst is an eight-minute curtain opener, brilliant, showy, and to the point, and it provides a wonderful closing number to a delightful album of music by a significant American composer.

Rafael de Acha