HOLDRIDGE: Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra. Lazarus and his Beloved: Symphonic Suite. Scenes of Summer. Ballet Fantasy. Andante. Grand Waltz. ALBINONI-HOLDRIDGE: Adagio.

HOLDRIDGE: Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra. Lazarus and his Beloved: Symphonic Suite. Scenes of Summer. Ballet Fantasy. Andante. Grand Waltz. ALBINONI-HOLDRIDGE: Adagio. Lee Holdridge conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles String Orchestra; Glenn Dicterow, violin. CITADEL CTD-88104 [ADD/DDD]; 77:35. Produced by Tom Null.

Lee Holdridge was born in Haiti and grew up in Costa Rica, before coming to the United States to study music at age 18. Now 51, he has been for many years a successful composer of scores for film (Splash, Mr. Mom, et al.) and television. This CD reissues some of Holdridge’s “classical” pieces composed and originally recorded during the 1970s.

The music is so similar in concept and effect overall that few comments about individual pieces are necessary in order to convey an impression of the disc as a whole. What is “classical” about this music is that it is autonomous rather than accompanimental in conception and devoid of overt vernacular stylistic or instrumental usages. However, it is not “classical” to the extent that the term implies structural or developmental complexity of any kind. Rather, this is purely melodic music, with little that couldn’t be reduced to a tune
played by the right hand with arpeggiated accompaniment in the left. However, it is all presented in sumptuous orchestral dress, with no detail omitted that might enhance the opulence of effect. The result, is — from a stylistic standpoint — film music without the film. Mind you, this description is not intended to be critical or negative, unless Holdridge has more exalted pretensions. I can assure you that many people — people who enjoy the “sound” of Hollywood film music — will love this disc from beginning to end, and I myself would certainly rather hear it playing in the background than any one of several thousand Baroque concertos. But because of its two-dimensional construction, the music can be entirely grasped in a single hearing or two. There is no psychological depth or true musical activity, no deeper levels to plumb — so far as I can tell — so that, as is inevitable with music of this kind, interest can pall very quickly.

The most elaborate and ambitious work is the ful1-length Violin Concerto No. 2, written in 1978 for Glenn Dicterow, who performs it splendidly on this recording. The first movement, which has a terrifically compelling opening, contains the disc’s only moments of emotional drama. Interest falls off a bit during the second and third movements. But on the whole, I can safely that listeners who appreciate the Korngold concerto are likely to enjoy this one just as much.

Also worthy of comment is the 15-minute symphonic suite from Holdridge’s 1974 religious opera, Lazarus and his Beloved. This is super-romantic, ultra-lush, post-Puccinian piety pushed to the max. The reservations noted above apply, but many will find this delicious fun anyway.

The rest of the music is in the same vein, though a little less ambitious. The arrangement of the Albinoni Adagio is deliberately Stokowskian. Performances are full throttle and the recording makes the most of it all. Definitely for musical hedonists — musical snobs had better steer clear.

HOIBY: Songs (18); O Florida (5 songs). I Was There (5 songs). Two Songs of Innocence. An Immorality. Night. Where the Music Comes From. Why Don’t You? What If. Investiture at Cecconi’s

HOIBY: Songs (18). Peter Stewart, baritone; Lee Hoiby, piano. 
CRI CD-685 [DDD]; 56:51. Produced by Marc Aubort, Joanna Nickrenz.
O Florida (5 songs). I Was There (5 songs). Two Songs of Innocence. An Immorality. Night. Where the Music Comes From. Why Don’t You? What If . . . Investiture at Cecconi’s

Now nearly 70 years old, Lee Hoiby has been slowly and quietly amassing a body of work notable for both its authenticity of feeling and its consistently high quality. All the music of his that I know is permeated by an unashamedly gentle and vulnerable sensibility and often by a subtle sweetness as well. Although he has worked in most media and genres, his best and generally, best-known work has been his operatic, choral, and solo vocal music, which inhabits the sensitive, lyrical aesthetic domain associated with Ned Rorem and, especially, Samuel Barber, who was his teacher and close associate. This new compact disc provides the opportunity to become acquainted with eighteen of Hoiby’s many songs in fine, sympathetic performances featuring baritone Peter Stewart, accompanied by the composer, who is an excellent, professional-level pianist 

It is easy to review this disc briefly and succinctly, because its felicities are many–too many and too specific to itemize here–with no shortcomings of any consequence. This is music, as I wrote recently in reference to Samuel Barber, that is “beautiful,” as that term is understood by the average listener. My one reservation–and it is one I have made before with regard to CD collections featuring many unfamiliar songs–is that attempting to absorb a dozen or two songs, one after the other by a single composer, creates a generalized impression that tends to obscure the specific, unique merits of individual selections. I find that concentrating on a small group can intensify one’s focus and shed a more revealing light on the collection as a whole.  

For example, if I were introducing this disc to a friend, I would play perhaps “The Lamb” from the Two Songs of Innocence, for its poignant spiritual purity, and the dramatic setting of  “Oh Captain My Captain!” from the five Whitman settings entitled “I Was There.” I  might also play “Where the Music Comes From,” in which Hoiby sets a text of his own, as he does in the choral Hymn to the New Age, in a somewhat more popular language, to create an idealistic yet very personal statement of fervent hope and love of humanity. These are perhaps the songs on the disc that are most direct in effect. Others, such as “Investiture at Cecconi’s” and the Wallace Stevens settings, O Florida, are somewhat more oblique and sophisticated. But Hoiby’s music is never cold, sterile, or remote.

Lee Hoiby’s music is not adequately represented on recording at this time. It would be wonderful to be able to enjoy some of his operas, such as Summer and Smoke and The Tempest, in the sort of definitive treatment recently accorded Carlisle Floyd’s  
Susannah.  There is also a gorgeous oratorio called Galileo Galilei that has never been recorded, a lovely Hymn of the Nativity, many shorter choral works, and an excellent solo piano work called Narrative. A Gothic CD of short choral works is, I believe, a reissue of an LP that suffered badly from poor recorded sound. Hoiby’s music will offer substantial rewards to a large number of listeners.

THOMPSON: Frostiana. Testament of Freedom

THOMPSON: Frostiana. Testament of Freedom. Richard Auldon Clark conducting the New York Choral Society and the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra.
KOCH INTERNATIONAL 3-7283-2H1 [DDD]; 49:07. Produced by Michael Fine.

The graphics of this new release give Randall Thompson’s somewhat better-knownTestament of Freedom center stage treatment, but it is Frostiana that offers the chief musical interest and satisfaction. Written to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the city of Amherst, Massachusetts in 1959, Frostiana comprises settings of seven of Robert Frost’s best-known poems. Within a consonant, diatonic musical language whose simple directness is universally accessible, the half-hour cycle successfully paints a poignant and remarkably apt musical analogue to Frost’s vision of rural New England and of the values and sensibilities associated with this milieu. The work concludes with a setting of “Choose Something Like a Star” which, despite its utter simplicity, is deeply and unforgettably moving. (Immediately following the premiere, Frost reportedly rose from his seat and bellowed, “Sing that again!”)

Thompson’s choral music seems to be the most enduring portion of his output; much of it is performed far more widely throughout the country than its representation on recordings might suggest. I believe that this new release marks Frostiana’s first appearance on a commercial recording, although it has been a favorite of choruses ever since it was written. I have felt for a long time that a recording would provide a welcome introduction of the work to a different segment of the listening audience. But, unfortunately, this performance is not
fully satisfactory. During the past few years, the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra’s many recordings, under the leadership of founder and conductor Richard Auldon Clark, have contributed significantly to the discovery and revival of American music of the middle third of this century. But, in general, Clark’s performances tend to emphasize accuracy, intonation, and warm, homogeneously blended textures at the expense of rhythmic and dynamic thrust, and this is also true here: the music is not quite as bland and passive as it sounds on this recording.

Furthermore, the chorus’s phrasing lacks nuance, resulting at times in a mechanical squareness of rhythm. I cannot help but recommend this release as a means of discovering a most rewarding piece, but there is room for interpretive improvement.

Testament of Freedom presents selections from the writings of Thomas Jefferson in primarily homophonic, syllabic settings. While using essentially the same simple, straightforward musical language as Frostiana, it is a much less interesting work. Rather like lower-drawer Elgar, it proceeds with a stately and occasionally stirring sense of patriotic self-satisfaction. Composed in 1943, Testament was apparently intended as a positive, encouraging wartime statement. But, as is usually the case with such efforts, the result is musically unimaginative and emotionally simplistic.

Both these works were originally conceived with piano accompaniment, and, for obvious reasons, this is the way they generally performed. However, the orchestral versions heard here are far preferable for listening purposes.

ROSNER: Of Numbers and of Bells. Sonata for French Horn and Piano. Sonata No. 1 for Cello and Piano. Nightstone

ROSNER: Of Numbers and of Bells. Sonata for French Horn and Piano. Sonata No. 1 for Cello and Piano. Nightstone. Randolph Lacy, tenor; Heidi Garson, French Horn; Maxine Neuman, cello; Timothy Hester, piano; Nancy Weems, piano; Yolanda Liepa, piano; Joan Stein, piano. ALBANY TROY-163 (DDD; ADDl; 67:13. Produced by John Proffitt, Max Schubel.

As American composer Arnold Rosner turns 50 this year, his large output of more than 100 works continues to reach increasingly larger audiences. This new release provides an opportunity for those who have discovered this unusual composer only since the advent of the compact disc to acquaint themselves with the two works that first introduced his name to recordings: the Sonata for Horn and Piano and the Sonata No. 1 for Cello and Piano, each of which first appeared on Opus One LPs (seeFanfare 8:1, p. 299; 9:5, p. 226). Thane excellent readings are reissued on this Albany disc, complemented by a couple of first recordings that also feature superb performances. Most important, all four works — duos for various media — are representative of Rosner at his most compelling arid most individual, making this an indispensable release for all those who are already admirers of his music, as well as for those who might be contemplating their first exposure to it.

By way of introduction to readers not yet familiar with the composer and his works (see also interview in Fanfare 14:5, pp. 414-19), Rosner is something of a maverick, rejecting virtually every compositional trend, from Neoclassicism and Neoromanticism to Serialism and Minimalism. Instead, he has developed a unique yet highly accessible language built largely around modal melodies, consonant, triadic harmony — often used in unconventional, non-tonal ways–and applications of such venerable techniques as cantus firmus and isorhythm, not to mention passacaglia, fugue, and sonata-allegro form. There is a strongly spiritual quality to much of his music, often Roman-Catholic in flavor, most obviously in his a capella masses, yet his own Jewish background is also evident in a number of works, either explicitly (e.g. the Sephardic Rhapsody) or through the appearance of a vaguely Middle-Easternmelos. More angular complex passages may suggest Shostakovich or Holmboe (to listeners familiar with the great Dane), while simpler, more diatonic sections often resemble Hovhaness. The propensity for spiritual states of mind and ancient techniques may lead the reader to suspect something along the lines of Gorecki, Part, or Tavener, but Rosner is much more accommodating to the listener’s desire for contrapuntal, rhythmic, and developmental activity dramatic tension and resolution, and variety in mood and emotion. His weakest aspect is a tendency toward a plodding rhythmic monotony in some works and, like many prolific composers who work within a highly idiosyncratic, circumscribed style (e.g., Hovhaness, Martinu, etc.), there is a tendency toward redundancy. But at his best, Rosner has something unique and refreshing to offer, and most of his work can be appreciated by listeners with little background in classical music.

The Cello Sonata No. 1 is the earliest work here, dating from 1968, when the composer was 23, although it underwent significant revision in 1977. It is rather similar to the Horn Sonata of 1979, although the latter — one of Rosner’s most fully consummated works — is more polished and sophisticated. This sonata seems well on the way to becoming a staple of the repertoire for the instrument. Both sonatas comprise three movements in a slow-fast-slow sequence. The first movements are angular and searching, with a piercingly brooding intensity, not unlike Shostakovich in his chamber works. The Horn Sonata opening is a brilliant passacaglia whose structure is neatly concealed by its expressive immediacy. Both second movements are scherzo-like in character, though the Cello Sonata’s is demonic and violent, while the Horn Sonata’s is jubilant and exalted. Both finales are incantational and hymn-like, with a rapturous, devotional quality.

Of Numbers and of Bells, dating from 1983, is the most recent of the selections offered here. Its title suggests its joint preoccupation with both sonority and numerology. Scored for two pianos, it presents a haunting and mysterious pattern of modal, Middle-Eastern-sounding arabesques that becomes a backdrop against which develop multi-layered textures based on irregularly overlapping rhythmic patterns, chordal patterns, and piano sonorities, culminating at times in thunderous, noble roars. The work may strike some listeners as New Age or Minimalist in effect, although both currents are anathema to Rosner. At 15 minutes, it does go on a bit too long, but there is much about it that is quite lovely, and the piece has already proven to have captivating effect on many listeners.

Nightstone(1979) comprises settings of three well-known portions of the Song of Songs in a folk-like, slightly Hebraic vein. The melodies are pleasantly ingratiating, and the second song, in particular, has real character. But the accompaniments could benefit from a more varied and colorful scoring — perhaps flute, harp, and tambourine, for example — because with piano alone, the simple arpeggiated and chordal figurations, with recurrent use of quintuple meter, become a bit monotonous Randolph Lacy has a light, accurate tenor whose quality is nicely suited to the music.