BARBER: The Lovers. Reincarnations. Two Choruses, Op. 8. Two Choruses, Op. 42. A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map. Sure on this Shining Night. Agnus Dei. Easter Chorale

BARBER The Lovers (arr. Kyr). Reincarnations. Two Choruses, Op. 8. Two Choruses, Op. 42A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map. Sure on this Shining Night. Agnus Dei. Easter Chorale (arr. Kyr) • Craig Hella Johnson, cond; Conspirare—Company of Voices; Chamber Orchestra; David Farwig (bar); Thomas Burritt (kd); Faith DeBow (pn) • HARMONIA MUNDI HMU-807522 (79:44)

In his program notes accompanying this handsomely produced new release, Joshua Shank writes that Samuel Barber “holds a permanent spot in the pantheon of 20th-century composers…. [A]s the music of the past century comes into sharper historical focus, it’s become apparent that Barber was clearly one of the great musical talents of his time.” Observing this process of continuously broadening recognition and appreciation during the three decades since his death, I have enjoyed the growing abundance of recordings and concert programs that feature his many orchestral masterpieces; this has been accompanied by a similar discovery of his music for piano. I have argued for some time that Barber’s choral music—works both large and small—are among the greatest and most profound fruits of his creativity, and we are now witnessing a proliferation of recordings of this portion of his output. Preceding this noteworthy offering have been discs featuring the Esoterics (on Terpsichore), the Joyful Company of Singers (on ASV), and the Cambridge University Chamber Choir (on Guild), all of which have been reviewed in these pages. The contents of these discs vary somewhat, but all offer meticulously fine, sensitive performances. As superb as this new release may be, it doesn’t warrant praise at the expense of the others.

But the discussion must begin with reference to another recording—one that would be on my “Want List” if I had to make five selections from the entire decade of the 1990s: Koch International 3-7125-2H1, featuring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by the tragically short-lived Andrew Schenck, in both Prayers of Kierkegaard and The Lovers—Barber’s masterpiece of spirituality coupled with his masterpiece of carnal and romantic love. I cannot recommend this release highly enough to those who are admirers of Barber’s music, but who don’t know these particular works. 

The remainder of this review assumes that the reader will have already acquired the Koch disc. This point is important because one of the main selling points of this new Harmonia Mundi release is its unveiling of composer Robert Kyr’s new chamber version of the cantata for baritone soloist, chorus, and symphony orchestra, The Lovers. The work was originally composed in 1971 on commission from Girard Bank of Philadelphia on behalf of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Acknowledging The Lovers as Barber’s valedictory masterpiece, Kyr states that he has “strived to create a more playable and affordable version” of the work. Reducing the orchestration from full symphony orchestra to an ensemble of 15, he feels that “a smaller version … is better suited to the sublime intimacy of [Pablo] Neruda’s poetry.” There is no question but that The Lovers has not received the attention that it deserves, so the notion that a version for reduced forces is more practical and may contribute to broader exposure for the work is reasonable, laudable, and desirable. Furthermore, Kyr has done a fine job of retaining—even highlighting—the basic musical elements, as well as aspects of the work’s essential character. And Conspirare, under the direction of Craig Johnson, provides a painstakingly sensitive and polished performance, although the baritone soloist isn’t ideal (but neither is Dale Duesing on the Koch recording), making Kyr’s reduction a fair and plausible compromise. But let’s not kid ourselves: This is no substitute for the original, and any claim to the contrary is a wishful rationalization. The work as Barber conceived it—depicting through Neruda’s poetry the course of a romantic relationship from beginning to end—reveals a sense of tragic grandeur that this version cannot approach. The claim that reduced forces emphasize the intimacy of Neruda’s poetry is unconvincing to anyone who is familiar with the original version. 

So, assuming that the reader already has that original version, the question is whether one also wishes to own Kyr’s reduction, and, since the 35-minute work occupies a sizable proportion of this disc, the answer may determine whether or not one decides to purchase the disc. Most of the remaining pieces—each a precious gem in its own way—can be found on any of the other recorded programs, and some of those offer their own unique features as well. The Conspirare release also features Kyr’s re-orchestration of Barber’s 1964 Easter Chorale. This 3-minute trifle, however, is of considerably lesser consequence. 

I will refrain from further comments on the individual pieces, as I have expressed myself on them in several previous reviews, to which I refer the interested reader (see Fanfare archive or They all exhibit the exquisite sensitivity to poignant emotions that is Barber’s greatest gift.

CHAUSSON: Trio in G minor for Violin, Cello, and Piano. Pièce for Cello and Piano. Concert in D for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet. Concert in D for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet.

CHAUSSON: Trio in G minor for Violin, Cello, and Piano. Pièce for Cello and Piano. Les Musiciens (Regis Pasquier, violin; Roland Pidoux, cello; Jean-Claude Pennetier, piano). HAR­MONIA MUNDI (France) HMC-1115, produced by Michel Bernard.

CHAUSSON: Concert in D for Violin, Piano, and String QuartetSylvia Rosenberg, violin; Maria Luisa Faini, piano; Chester String Quartet. PANTHEON PFN-2101, produced by John Santuccio.

CHAUSSON: Quartet in A for Violin, Viola, Cello, and Piano.Les Musiciens (Regis Pasquier, violin; Bruno Pasquier, viola; Roland Pidoux, cello; Jean-Claude Pennetier, piano). HARMONIA MUNDI (France) HM-1116, produced by Michel Bernard.

Ernest Chausson’s representation on records is improved significantly with these new re­leases highlighting three of his four major chamber works. (The fourth, a String Quartet in C minor, left incomplete at the time of his fatal bicycle accident, may be heard on Musical Heri­tage Society 1351Z.) Ginette Keller, annotator of the Harmonia Mundi discs, writes, “The name of Ernest Chausson is almost forgotten today; apart from the famous Poème for violin and orchestra, what music is known by this composer . . . ?” I suppose it depends on how we conceive of the collective public by whom one is either recognized or ignored, but it seems to me that during the past several years Chausson’s time has really arrived. If one considers the several fine recordings of the Concert in D, the excellent recordings of the Poème de l’Amour et de la Mer, with the extraordinary Jessye Norman disc heading the list (Erato NUM-75059; see Fanfare VII:3, pp. 163-4), the long-awaited complete recording of the opera Le Roi Arthus (MRF 179-S; see Fanfare VI:2, pp, 119-20), together with these three new releases, it appears that Chausson has finally shed the restrictive mantle of Franck epigone, having become acknowledged as a distinctive artist in his own right.

In previous reviews I have cited Chausson as the most potent creative figure in French late Romanticism, an important precursor of and influence on Debussy, a student of Franck who achieved a refinement and elegance far beyond that of the Belgian master, yet who was never content with the facile triviality or labored academicism that satisfied most of his compatriots. Chausson’s output was relatively small (less than 40 works), owing to a late start in music (he first earned a law degree), slow and highly self-critical work habits, and premature death at the age of 44. Yet few of these works stray from the standards of elevated artistic content and me­ticulous workmanship that Chausson defined for himself. It is therefore gratifying to find his work accorded the attention and respect that it truly deserves.

The piano trio is an early work, composed in 1881, while Chausson was still a Franck stu­dent. Here the influence of the elder composer is omnipresent—along with that of Brahms in the scherzo, and even of Tristan—thoughnot to the point of completely obscuring the identity of the young composer. One must also concede that the rhetoric is overwrought at times, routine at others, quite in the manner of Franck. Yet while the trio lacks the individuality and refinement of the mature works, its sense of emotional commitment is powerful, its thematic material is of high quality, and its developmental craftsmanship is strong, making it an auspicious work certain to reward the interest of those concerned with Chausson and his time.

The performance, by an ensemble associated with Radio France and known as Les Musiciens, is excellent. They present the trio on a grand scale, broadly paced and dramatically con­toured, lending it an imposing legitimacy that performances of neglected works are notorious for lacking. There have been several previous recordings of this work. The best known to me is a Dutch disc (Orpheon BP-201) released during the late 1970s, featuring the Guarneri Trio. That was a fine, vigorous performance, no less impressive than this new one.

The disc also contains the eight-minute Pièce for cello and piano, composed in 1897. It is a lovely elegy, without the morbidity to which Chausson was so often prone. Despite its outward simplicity, it reveals a sophistication in rhythm and texture missing from the earlier—if more ambitious—trio. In the Pièce, however, the exposed cello playing of Roland Pidoux re­veals a rather raw, sinewy tone quality.

The Concert in D for violin, piano, and string quartet appeared some 10 years after the trio and is a work of Chausson’s artistic maturity, although he is said to have remarked, “an­other failure,” upon its completion. Some time later, however, no less than Kaikhosru Sorabji termed it “one of the most original and beautiful chamber works of modern times.” I concur wholeheartedly with Sorabji’s high regard for the piece, although today’s listener will certainly not find anything “modern” in it, rooted as it is in an aesthetic realm that might be termed pre-impressionistic. Musicians seem finally to be discovering this work, a moving personal state­ment by a major artist, which gives full vent to a profound inner despair within a language of elegant urbanity resembling art nouveau. In the tension between the yearning for intimate con­fession and the need to maintain composure, one finds a parallel with the psychological dynamic of someone as apparently different as Sir Edward Elgar.

The tremendous appeal of this work has led to several recordings of late, the most recent of which was an awfully shallow reading featuring Itzhak Perlman, Jorge Bolet, and the Juil­liard Quartet (CBS IM-37814; see Fanfare VII:2, pp. 201-2). This new Pantheon recording, with Sylvia Rosenberg, Maria Luisa Faini, and the Chester Quartet (apparently from the East­man School of Music), is excellent, without the preciousness and fastidiousness that have un­dermined other versions. These performers are not afraid of (or oblivious to) the powerful emotions that motivate the work. Only the last movement seems to sag somewhat, due to the duress of continually active textural figurations. Less expensive than the formidable digital version with Lorin Maazel, Israela Margalit, and the Cleveland Orchestra String Quartet (Telarc DG-10046; see Fanfare IV:2, pp. 92-3), this analog recording presents a fine alternative, al­though Maazel and company display somewhat more finesse, especially in the last movement.

Chausson completed his piano quartet in 1897, six years after the Concert, and it reflects something of a shift in focus, from emotional expression to textural variety. Therefore an em­phasis on subtle nuances of tone color is not as dangerous as when applied to the Concert. The work is clearly recognizable as Chausson’s, with its pentatonic themes, melancholy moods, and richly billowing textures. But it is a bit less subjective, less filled with pathos. Indeed it is one of Chausson’s few major works not conceived in a state of protracted hopelessness; some com­mentators consider it his masterpiece.

The only other fairly recent recording of the work to circulate in this country is an English performance from about 1970 featuring the Richards Quartet (L’Oiseau-Lyre SOL-316). That one was good, but a bit lacking in conviction. This new performance by Les Musiciens exhibits exquisite tonal refinement, underlining the quartet’s aesthetic affinity with the contemporaneous works of Debussy. It is an expansive reading, making no attempt to hurry through what is quite a leisurely piece. Richly recorded, the performance luxuriates in its own sensuousness. Al­though I might prefer a more tangible sense of progression, this is an excellent rendition that Chausson enthusiasts will not want to miss.

At this point, these three discs, along with the aforementioned Jessye Norman recording, the Le Roi Arthur set, and a version each of the Symphony in Br and the violin Poème, can serve as an essential, representative discography of one of the leading figures in French music of the 19th century.

BLOCH: Israel Symphony . Suite for Viola and Orchestra. Suites (3) for Cello Solo. Méditation Hébraïque. From Jewish Life. Nirvana. Nigun

BLOCH: Israel Symphony. Suite for Viola and Orchestra • Dalia Atlas, cond; Slovak Radio Orchestra; Atlas Camerata Orchestra; Yuri Gandelsman, viola; vocal quintet • ASV CD DCA-1148 (66:48)

BLOCH: Suites (3) for Cello Solo. Méditation Hébraïque. From Jewish Life. Nirvana. Nigun • Emmanuelle Bertrand (vc); Pascal Amoyel (pn) • HARMONIA MUNDI HMC-901810 (72:16)

Here is the latest crop of new releases of music by Ernest Bloch. Both works on the ASV disc, which continues the English company’s survey of Bloch’s music, date from the late 1910s, around the time of his arrival in America and his meteoric rise from total obscurity to national recognition as an important new voice of primal, ruthless emotional honesty. 

Clearly, the most significant addition is the new recording of the Israel Symphony, a work composed around the same time as Schelomo and of comparable style and quality, but much less frequently performed and recorded. The only explanation I can offer for its failure to achieve comparable popularity is the rather impractical requirement of five vocal soloists, whose contribution is limited to just the work’s last eight minutes or so. A half-hour span subdivided into three connected movements, the work is built symbolically around two Jewish holidays of the fall season: The first two sections refer to Yom Kippur, the solemn Day of Atonement, while the third evokes the spirit of Succoth, the holiday of the harvest. The somber first movement serves as a compelling introduction, which accumulates intensity as it builds in a tightly focused expressive line. The second movement is the equivalent of a scherzo, a barbaric unleashing of wild energy that explodes without restraint until finally achieving a subdued resolution, which leads directly into the third section. After the tremendous concentration of the first two sections, the third is, admittedly, somewhat less compelling. A warm orchestral introduction builds to an exultant climax, followed by the entrance of the five solo voices-two sopranos, two contraltos, and one bass-who join in a humble prayer of supplication, to Bloch’s own text. This section unfolds in a leisurely fashion, with melodic lines strongly marked by Semitic inflections. Perhaps the serenity of this passage seems a little too easily won after the extended brooding and turbulence that precedes it. Nevertheless, in view of the Symphony’s overtly appealing qualities, it warrants more widespread familiarity than it has it is thus far achieved.

The most recent recording of the Israel Symphony of which I am aware was a Russian performance conducted by the late Yevgeni Svetlanov. However, this reading garnered such negative reviews that I never took the trouble to hear it myself. Before that the standard was set by a 1967 recording featuring Maurice Abravanel conducting the Utah Symphony Orchestra, which eventually was re-issued on CD. The conception of that performance was beyond reproach, although ragged, out-of-tune playing and some shrill singing, coupled with out-dated sound quality, marred the actual experience. The performance at hand, featuring the Slovak Radio Orchestra conducted by ASV’s Bloch specialist Dalia Atlas, doesn’t deviate significantly from Abravanel’s conception, while offering somewhat better orchestral playing, considerably better singing, and vastly superior sonics-a significant factor for a work that creates such a richly colored orchestral sonority. The artistry of the Slovak vocal soloists renders the concluding section more convincingly, although the producers have not complied with Bloch’s stipulation that the singers be heard from back within the orchestra, rather than looming in the foreground. On balance, then, this reading may be regarded as an interim improvement that should attract a new audience to this important work, while a truly definitive recorded performance has yet to make its appearance.

Bloch completed his Suite for Viola and Piano in 1919, three years after the Israel Symphony, and orchestrated the piano part less than a year later. In this work Jewish references are largely disavowed, although suggestions of the “exotic” abound: much of it employs the same language heard in the earlier, explicitly Jewish works. Half an hour in duration, the Suite falls into four sections: an extended, multisectional first movement, followed by three shorter movements. Although Bloch attempted to discourage extramusical interpretations of the work, its boldly evocative character proved irresistible to critics and commentators, one going so far as to suggest that the work deals with “the progress from the early forms of life on earth up unto the earliest of our great human civilizations.”

The first movement is the most eloquent portion of the Suite, an impassioned, freely rhetorical soliloquy vaguely suggestive of a remote time and place, followed by a dance-like section, highly inflected with modal melodic twists of Middle-Eastern cast. The second movement is one of Bloch’s grotesque scherzos, with some brilliant material but a little cluttered with unfocused digressions. A beautifully haunted nocturne follows, shrouded in mystery. The final movement opens with a pentatonic theme that points obviously to the Far East. However, as in the scherzo, an excessive number of shifts in tempo and mood produce an episodic effect before the work comes to an uncharacteristically jubilant conclusion.

Although the Suite won the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Competition, and has always been highly regarded by the composer’s advocates, I have consistently found it to be weakened by episodic and digressive tendencies that blunt its effect, especially in the later movements. In fact, the argument can be made that the 15-minute first movement might have been more effective as a work in itself. In any case, the orchestral version is vastly preferable, allowing the Suite’s richly perfumed atmosphere, implicit but dormant in the piano original, to blossom fully, along with its subjective orientalism.

The performance by the Russian-Israeli violist Yuri Gandelsman is as good as any I’ve heard, and better than most, with fine support provided by the Atlas Camerata. This Israeli ensemble, formed by the eponymous conductor, seems somewhat more polished and precise than the larger Slovak orchestra. In summary, this release-though not the last word-offers collectors of Bloch’s music a welcome opportunity to upgrade their recorded representation of two of his major works.

The recent Harmonia Mundi release features an excellent French duo: cellist Emmanuelle Bertrand and pianist Pascal Amoyel. Their disc is built around the three suites for cello solo that Bloch composed in 1956-57, shortly before his death. Nestled among them on this recording are also several rarities by the composer.
Many Bloch enthusiasts consider the six unaccompanied suites he composed during the last three years of his life-three for cello, two for violin, and one (incomplete) for viola-to be among his finest achievements. I do not share this view (although regular readers of mine are probably aware by now that I have some distaste for unaccompanied pieces for solo strings). I feel that the nature of Bloch’s creative personality requires harmonic density and fullness of sonority; the solo string medium is just too rarefied for his mode of expression, resulting in what are to me largely sterile compositional exercises. This having been said, I will add that Cello Suites Nos. 1 and 3 are clearly in the Baroque manner, while No. 2 — the longest — is a deeper, more personal work, austere though it is. Cellist Bertrand’s readings of all three are exquisitely shaped and executed.

But it is the other oddments on the disc that hold particular interest for me. Nirvanais one of the many short pieces Bloch composed (along with quite a few large-scale works) during his years as Director of the Cleveland Institute of Music (1920-25). Many of these short pieces are mysterious and exotic nocturnes—the composer’s brand of “night music.” A work for piano solo, Nirvana is one of the strangest of these in its attempt to conjure a remote other—worldliness. Pianist Pascal Amoyel emphasizes this quality by taking an exceedingly slow tempo and maintaining a sort of dynamic stasis, going a good deal beyond the composer’s actual score indications-somewhat like Ernest Bloch seen through the sensibility of Morton Feldman.

Composed the following year, in 1924, was Méditation Hébraïque. Written for Pablo Casals (who proclaimed Bloch as one of the 20th-century’s supreme masters), it resembles Nuit Exotique for violin and piano, and sounds exactly as one might expect: introspective reflections, often quite eloquent, in an Impressionistic language with a Jewish accent. Quarter-tones are used for the purpose of expressive inflection, as in the Piano Quintet No. 1. From Jewish Life is a suite in three short movements, rather like a cello-and-piano counterpart to the Baal Shem Suite, but a bit less extroverted and passionate, more quietly soulful, as befits the instrument (all pieces noted in this paragraph date from 1923-24). And, speaking of the latter well-known triptych of Jewish pieces, Bertrand and Amoyel conclude the CD with an arrangement for cello and piano of the central “Nigun” movement from that suite-a staple of the recital repertoire for violin and piano. This is an obvious and natural adaptation, in view of the composer’s partiality for the cello. The duo’s compelling performance of this passionate incantation argues persuasively for its use as a vehicle for that instrument as well. 

David Amos conducts Modern Masters

David Amos conducts Modern Masters

Harmonia Mundi is inaugurating a new series of recordings under the heading “Modern Masters,” and the first three releases have just arrived. A varied selection of repertoire is eatured–primarily accessible works of the 20th century–in performances by three London groups, led by the American conductor, David Amos.

Amos is becoming an increasingly familiar name on the iInternational recording scene, with more than a dozen Recordings — mostly of just this sort of repertoire — on a variety of different labels. These recordings have been highly praised, for the most part, by Fanfare as well as by other reviewing media. During the past year alone, Amos has conducted seven new compact discs, featuring 26 works, 15 of them first recordings — a pretty impressive total, especially for a conductor who does not have a permanent orchestral post.

David Amos is based in San Diego, where he heads the International Musicians’ Recording Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering recordings of worthy but neglected music, mostly of the 20th century. So he is certainly an appropriate figure to collaborate with Harmonia Mundi on a project of this kind.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Maestro Amos, on the occasion of the release of these three new recordings, when he was gracious enough to share some of his thoughts and aspirations regardinq the “Modern Masters” project.

WS: This is a pretty imposing set of initial releases: thirteen pieces for orchestra, many of them first recordings. How did the Modern Masters series come about?

DA: Originally, I approached Harmonia Mundi with the idea. Knowing of my track record of promoting music of lesser-known composers and talented young artists, the Harmonia Mundi executives were pretty receptive to my proposal. 50 together we conceived the idea of a series called “Modern Masters,” which would present music that has never been recorded, as well as some other pieces that may have been available during the 1950s but have long been out of circulation. You know, there are a lot of pieces like that — wonderful pieces that haven’t been available for years. Libraries and radio stations are always clamoring for new copies to replace their old, worn-out ones. 50 we decided to do some of these as well, with modern sound and modern orchestras.

WS: That’s great. Do you expect the series to continue?

DA: I have every indication that there is an interest in continuing. Of course, the success of these first releases will be an important factor.

WS: How did you determine the initial repertoire?

DA: Basically, I do music that I enjoy and respect. 1’malso open to suggestions from experts who are knowledgable about 20th-century orchestral music and are aware of which works are most deserving of exposure. This has seemed to work very well, because the music I have recorded has elicited tremendous enthusiasm from listeners. I was just speaking with the music director of New York City’s public radio station earlier today, and he happened to mention that Hovhaness’ Concerto No. 8 for Orchestra and some of the Rosner pieces have prompted an unbelievable number of phone calls.

WS: Yes, I notice that Hovhaness, Rosner, and Creston seem to be favorites of yours.

DA: That’s right. You know, contrary to the conventional myths, there’s a great deal of 20th-century music that’s quite melodious and enjoyable, even at first hearing.

WS: That’s right. For a brief period — during the 1940s and early 5Os — this kind of music was being heard in America. Then — except for people like Copland and Barber — it disappeared. Now, thanks to the efforts of conductors like Leonard Slatkin, Gerard Schwarz, and you, this music has begun to re-enter the repertoire.

DA: Yes, I’m very excited about this. Since it appears that 12-tone music, serial music, and most of the other avant-garde music of the 1960s and 70s has not fulfilled the claims made for it by its defenders, many soloists and conductors are looking for new allegiances. A lot of them seem to be turning to some of the older composers whose music was ignored when it was first composed: people like Creston, Dello Joio, and Morton Gould, who are definitely high-quality composers whose excellent craftsmanship and artistry are now being recognized.

WS: Would you like to have a permanent orchestral position at some point?

DA: Well, what I would really like is to have a position as principal guest conductor with one of the better orchestras — one that has the same beliefs and interests that I do. You see, even though I love the standard repertoire and enjoy conducting it, I find there are plenty of fine conductors who do only that and duplicate each other’s efforts. I much prefer to pursue what I feel is a personal crusade and bring some of this wonderful unfamiliar repertoire to audiences, while interspersing it with standard pieces that they all know and love.

WS: Do you find conducting for recordings very different from conducting in concert?

DA: It is, in many ways. Standing up in front of an English or European orchestra to do a first recording requires some very specialized skills that I’ve had the opportunity to develop: It’s usually the first time that the orchestral players look at the music, in many cases it’s the first time the conductor conducts it, the music is generally far more difficult in concept and technique than standard repertory, and it all has to fall into place right there in the recording session — no real rehearsals, just a run-through or two, a few comments, and then the tape starts rolling. So conductor, soloist, and orchestra have to develop a unified style almost immediately. There’s no time to correct tempos or change interpretation — you must know exactly what you want right from the start. In order to accomplish this, of course, the orchestra must consist of superb and experienced readers, able to adjust instantly to the motions, style, and demands of the conductor on the podium. Most orchestras that do only standard repertoire cannot handle such a pressured situation. That’s why it was such a pleasure recording Modern Masters in England, with absolutely the finest reading musicians any place in the world.

This conversation with David Amos certainly whetted my appetite for the three new releases at hand. Having listened to each several times, I can summarize my impressions as follows: Each CD contains one work — listed first in the headnotes below — that, if not justifying the acquisition of each release, makes it worthy of serious consideration by the listener who favors this sort of music.

Volume I, which presents music for full orchestra, features the first recording, as far as I know, of Tripartita, a substantial, three-movement work written in 1972 by Miklos Rozsa. Considering the state of health of the 84-year old composer, it is probably his final major orchestral piece. Tripartita is a terse, powerful, brilliantly orchestrated work, considerably more angular and hard-bitten than the film music for which Rozsa is famous. Drawing upon a language rather reminiscent of Bartok’s Dance SuiteTripartita is sure to interest and gratify the composer’s many admirers.

The other pieces on Volume I are highly accessible and generally diverting in character. Some listeners may prefer a deeper, more challenging program, but others will enjoy the selections, I am sure. Menotti’s Triple Concerto a Tre is a genial, concertante-style work composed in 1970, featuring three instrumental trios in soloistic roles. The slow movement displays a lovely, Finzi-like lyricism and poignancy that would be ideal in a movie; the outer movements each have an infectious, slightly neo-Baroque, Pulcinella-like quality that reminds one of the overture to an opera buffa. Morton Gould’s three-movement Folk Suite dates from 1938, and displays the composer’s characteristic treatment of American-flavored subject matter. I find that in such pieces, Gould subjects exceedingly banal material to such excessively complex elaboration that the results lack the naturalness, spontaneity, and grace achieved by Copland, for example. Latvian-born Marc Lavry composed the 16-minute symphonic poem Emek in 1936, one year after he immigrated to Palestine. A homage to the early settlers of Israel, the work is simply conceived with broad, heroic gestures and exotic colorations.

Modern Masters II features the Partita for flute, violin, and strings, composed by Paul Creston in 1937. This is a delightful five-movement neo-Baroque dance suite, infused with the composer’s warmth and exuberant good humor. Though the Partita does not aspire to “the power and intensity of Creston’s more serious-toned works, it has been a favorite among listeners, ever since its early-1950s recording on the American Recording Society label, which was later reissued on Desto. I always found that performance and recording pretty drab, so the high-spirited vitality of this rendition, captured within a sonic context of crystalline transparency, represents a most welcome improvement.

The remainder of this disc presents a varied program of music for chamber orchestra. David Ward-Steinman was born in Louisiana in 1936 and is now composer-in-residence at San Diego State University. His music has evolved during the years, incorporating many of the trends and fashions that have come and gone. The Concerto No. 2 was composed during the early 1960s and is a representative example of the sort of American neoclassicism that often appeared on Robert Whitney’s Louisville Orchestra recordings from exactly that period. Ward-Steinman’s contribution is skillful in its lively, exhilarating way. Norman Dello Joio is a composer whose music has rarely impressed me at all, despite my great fondness for the generation of composers to which he belongs. His Lyric Fantasies is a relatively recent (1975) work for viola and strings whose genial, if somewhat dry, urbanity calls William Walton to mind. Something of a human composing machine, Henry Cowell composed his five-minute Hymn on the spur-of-the-moment one day in 1946. It is a warmly euphonious example of his distinctive neo-early-American vein, with its hearty modal polyphony, and deliberate crudities of voice-leading. Paul Turok is probably better known as a critic than as a composer. (He used to write for Fanfare, among other publications, and now has his own journal, Turok’s Choice.) His brief Threnody dates from 1979 and, to my ears, suffers from a lack of distinctive personality. Britten-cum-Hindemith is the general flavor.

The highlight of Modern Masters III is Responses, Hosanna, and Fuque, by Arnold Rosner (see interview/discography in last issue). This is a 20-minute work for string orchestra and harp, composed in 1977. Inhabiting an expressive realm initially charted by Vaughan Williams in his Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, and further mined by Alan Hovhaness in many of his works, Rosner’s piece more than holds its own in this company. Of course, the presence of two Hovhaness works on this CD makes a comparison inevitable, especially when one recalls that Rosner is the author of the entry on Hovhaness in The New Grove and one notes that the works featured here by the two reveal the aspect of each composer closest in style to the other. In my view, the comparison favors Rosner, whose work — here and elsewhere — displays greater depth, expressive range, melodic appeal, harmonic interest, and sense of formal direction. While perhaps a trifle over-extended relative to its substance, Responses, Hosanna, and Fugue is a work whose spiritual fervor will certainly appeal to admirers of both composers.

The two Hovhaness works appear to be first recordings also. Psalm and Fuque is scored for string orchestra and dates from the early 1940s, when the composer was concentrating on modal polyphony, ecclesiastical in character and without the middle-eastern exoticism that soon appeared in his work. Like Alleluia and Fuque, composed about the same time (and recorded by Amos on Crystal CD810), Psalm and Fuque evokes a slightly mournful, yet warmly devotional mood. Shepherd of Israel appeared about a decade later, when Armenian religious and folk elements had entered Hovhaness’ creative palette. Somewhat reminiscent of Avak the Healer, with thematic similarities to Talin, Shepherd of Israel comprises six short movements in which the string orchestra is augmented variously by a flute, a cantorial singer, and a trumpet. The middle-eastern melos, the Hebrew language, and the title of the work give it an appropriately Israeli quality (it was written to commemorate the founding of Israel), although the music itself is standard early-1950s Hovhaness.

And finally, there is DelIo Joio’s Meditations on Ecclesiastes, rounding out a CD that seems to be unified by spiritual concerns. This half-hour work for strings was composed in 1956 and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize the following year. It was recorded for CRI by the Oslo Philharmonic under the direction of Alfredo Antonini, a performance that has been re-issued on CD by Bay Cities (BCD-I017). The work has been choreographed by Jose Limon, with the title, There is a Time. It is in the form of a theme and variations, with each biblical line represented by a variation. Again, I must confess something of a deafness to DelIo Joio’s virtues. Its language strikes me as at once harsh and treacly, emotionally lukewarm in a way that conjures 1950s American culture at its most ordinary. Amos’ performance is somewhat broader than Antonini’s, which is fine as well, but Harmonia Mundi’s sonics are, of course, vastly superior.

The performances on these three CDs are generally solid, fervent, and committed. The sound quality is splendid, with a fullness and richness never at the expense of clarity. Some of the soloists — especially, cantor Sheldon Merel in Shepherd of Israeland violist Karen Elaine in Dello Joio’s Lyric Fantasies — are rather uncertain. Program booklets are handsomely produced, with excellent photos of the composers, although accompanying notes could be somewhat more elaborate.

MODERN MASTERS I. ROZSA: Tripartita. MENOTTI: Triplo Concerto a Tre.GOULD: Folk Suite. LAVRY: Emek. David Amos conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. HARMONIA MUNDI–HMU 906010 [DDDJi 72:59. Produced by Tim McDonald.

MODERN MASTERS II. CRESTON: Partita for Flute, Violin, and Strings. DELLO JOIO: Lyric Fantasies for Viola and Strings. WARD-STEINMAN: Concerto No.2 for Chamber Orchestra. COWELL: Hymn for Strings. TUROK: Threnody. Yossi Arnheim, flute; Nicholas Ward, violin; Karen Elaine, viola; David Amos conducting the City of London Sinfonia. HARMONIA MUNDI–HMU 906011 [DDDJi 59:31. Produced by Robina G. Young.

MODERN MASTERS III. ROSNER: Responses, Hosanna, and Fugue.HOVHANESS: Shepherd of 1sraelPsalm and Fugue. DELLO JO1O: Meditations on Ecclesiastes. Sheldon Merel, cantor; Kenneth Smith, flute. David Amos conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra. HARMONIA MUNDI–HMU 906012 [DDDJi 76:35. Produced by Robina G. Young. .

Picks of the Year: 1994

This year’s Want List offers a feast for those in search of accessible treasures of twentieth-century music. Two releases highlight the achievements of master composers in media for which they enjoyed a special affinity, while the other three bring to light masterpieces that have been hitherto all but unknown. The Barber set (reviewed in [Fanfare]18:1) features the solo vocal output of America’s greatest song composer, including ten that have never been recorded before, in glorious performances that must be termed definitive. The Bloch disc (also reviewed in 18:1) offers the first modern recording of Evocations, possibly the composer’s finest and most representative purely orchestral work, as well as the first recording ever of his last completed composition. The Creston disc (reviewed in this issue) presents the premier recording of his Symphony No. 5, which definitely belongs in the pantheon of great American post-romantic symphonies–forty years after it was written. The Supraphon disc (also reviewed in this issue) contains a reissue of the sole recording ever of The Mystery of Time, by Miloslav Kabelác — one of the most strangely compelling orchestral works to come out of mid-20th-century Europe, which must be heard to be believed. The Persichetti disc (18:1 again) features fine, sympathetic performances of seven less familiar pieces by America’s (if not the world’s) greatest composer of music for winds.

BARBER: Songs (complete). Studer/Hampson/Browning. (DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 435 867-2i two discs)
BLOCH: Evocations; Two Last Poems; Three Jewish Poems. Sedares/New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. KOCH INTERNATIONAL 3-7232-2H1) 
CRESTON: Symphony No. 5; Toccata; Choreografic Suite. Schwarz/Seattle Symphony Orchestra/New York Chamber Symphony (DELOS DE-3127) 
KABELÁCThe Mystery of Time; Hamlet ImprovisationJANACEK: Glagolitic Mass. Ancerl/Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. (SUPRAPHON 11 1930-2 911) PERSICHETTIMusic for Wind Ensemble. Amos/London Symphony Winds. (HARMONIA MUNDI HMU-907092

VINCENT PERSICHETTI: Works for Band: Divertimento, Op. 42; Psalm, Op. 53; Pageant, Op. 59; Serenade for Band, Op. 85; Masquerade, Op. 102; O Cool Is the Valley, Op. 118; Parable for Band, Op. 121; Chorale Prelude: 0 God Unseen, Op. 160.

Divertimento, Op. 42; Psalm, Op. 53;  Pageant, Op. 59; Serenade for Band, Op. 85;Masquerade, Op. 102; O Cool Is the Valley, Op. 118;  Parable for Band, Op. 121;Chorale Prelude: 0 God Unseen, Op. 160.

During the middle years of this century, the aggregation of woodwinds, brass, and percussion known as the symphonic band, along with its less densely proportioned relative, the symphonic wind ensemble, began to flourish in the high schools and colleges of the United States. Some of these groups, led by gifted conductors with high aspirations such as Frederick Fennell and William Revelli, attained impressive levels of artistry and technical proficiency, developing international reputations. In addition to demanding the highest standards of performance from their ensembles, these pioneering figures encouraged America’s leading composers to contribute to the development of a repertoire of the highest caliber, tailored specifically to the band medium while shunning its traditional outdoor pops-concert connotations. As the medium mushroomed, so did this repertoire, filling a voracious, receptive, unjaded appetite for new music among the young musicians of the huge post-World War II baby-boom. Some works soon attained the status of classics, enjoying literally thousands of performances.

Pivotal to the development of this repertoire and perhaps its most distinguished exponent was Vincent Persichetti, who contributed 14 works, many of which have become staples of the genre. Persichetti was a central figure in many aspects of American musical life — as a member of the composition faculty at Juilliard School for 40 years, as the author of a widely-used composition text, Twentieth Century Harmony, as a popular guest-lecturer at college campuses around the country, and as composer of more than 160 works, including an opera, nine symphonies, twelve piano sonatas, and numerous other orchestral chamber, choral, and vocal works. But it is through his works for band that his name and his music are most widely known.

 Vincent Persichetti was born to an Italian father and a German mother in Philadelphia in 1915, and continued to live there until his death in 1987. He began to study the piano at age five, which gave direction to a musical interest that was already insatiable and a talent that soon proved prodigious.  He began to compose almost immediately and, during his adolescence, earned money as a church organist. He credited Russell King Miller, with whom he studied at Philadelphia’s Combs Conservatory, with being his most influential teacher. He joined the Combs faculty immediately after graduating, while earning his doctorate at the Philadelphia Conservatory, where he studied composition with Paul Nordoff and piano with Olga Samaroff. In 1947 William Schuman invited him to join the Juilliard faculty, and he remained there for the rest of his life (commuting by car from Philadelphia to New York). He became chairman of Juilliard’s composition department in 1963, and in 1970, of the literature and materials department.

Persichetti’s career flourished during a period when American composition was deeply divided among rival stylistic factions, each seeking to invalidate the work of its opponents. In the face of this partisan antagonism, Persichetti advocated — through his lectures and writings, as well as through his music — the notion of a broad working vocabulary, or “common practice,” based on a fluent assimilation of all the materials and techniques that had appeared during the twentieth century.  His own music exhibits a wide stylistic range, from extreme diatonic simplicity to complex, contrapuntal atonality.

Most of Persichetti’s music for band falls along the simpler end of his compositional spectrum, although the Parable represents the opposite pole. This is utilitarian music, in the sense that it was written with an awareness of imminent performance in a variety of different practical contexts.  But there is no compromise in standards of taste or quality of workmanship. Even the simplest pieces, such as Psalm and Pageant, have a youthful sweetness and exuberance that are utterly genuine, and display meticulous attention to formal values. Indeed, these qualities, along with a sense of mischief and a poignant vein of nostalgia represent the essence of Persichetti’s personality and permeate all his music, though manifest at times at dizzying levels of complexity.

A fondness for wind instruments dates back to Persichetti’s early years: his Opus 1, composed at age 14, is a Serenade for Ten Winds. However, in an interview with Rudy Shackelford, he himself acknowledged with characteristic whimsy the misgivings many hold about the band medium and its “rusty trumpets, consumptive flutes, wheezy oboes, disintegrating clarinets fumbling yet amiable baton wavers, and gum-coated park benches. If you couple these conditions with transfigurations and disfigurations of works originally conceived for orchestra, you create a sound experience that’s nearly as excruciating as a sick string quartet playing a dilettante’s arrangement of a 19th-century piano sonata. But when composers think of the band as a huge, supple ensemble of winds and percussion, the obnoxious fat drains off and creative ideas flourish.”

Originally, Persichetti did not set out to write for band.  During the interview quoted above, he recalled “composing in a log cabin schoolhouse in El Dorado, Kansas, during the summer of 1949. Working with some lovely woodwind figures, accentuated by choirs of aggressive brasses and percussion beating, I soon realized the strings weren’t going to enter, and myDivertimento began to take shape.” Completed the following year, the work exemplifies Persichetti’s propensity for pieces comprising tiny epigrammatic movements. The opening “Prologue” displays one of the composer’s most distinctive trademarks: the use of rapid duple meter as a framework for lively, playful, syncopated rhythmic byplay. This feature can be heard throughout the works on this disc. “Song” is reflective in tone, with melody and accompanimental material all based on an undulating figure. “Dance” is gentle and childlike. “Burlesque” features the tubas with a mocking melody in Lydian mode against raucous offbeats, framing a taunting central section. In “Soliloquy,” a cornet solo creates a mood of haunting nostalgia. “March” returns to the rousing spirit of the opening movement.

Psalm was composed in 1952 and highlights the warm sonorities of the band in chorale treatment. A solemn opening is followed by a hymnlike section that leads into a jubilantallegro vivace. After an exhilarating development, the work culminates in a fervent return of the hymnlike material.

Persichetti completed Pageant the following year and the spirit of the two works is similar enough that the later work might almost be regarded as a sequel. In two sections, Pageantopens with a three-note horn motif upon which the entire work is based. The first section is again in chorale style, while the second is vigorous and marchlike, suggesting a parade. Several thematic ideas, all based on the opening horn motif, are subjected to a development whose thoroughness is belied by the music’s exuberant, extroverted character. 

Serenade for Band, composed in 1960, is the eleventh of Persichetti’s fifteen serenades for various combinations. Like Divertimento, each serenade consists of several tiny movements. Here, a triadic motif unifies the movements and each except the concluding “Capriccio” is pervaded by a sense of nostalgia.

Persichetti often re-used material originally composed for another purpose. Masquerade, dating from 1965, is a set of ten ingenious variations on a theme created from musical examples written for the textbook Twentieth Century Harmony. The language is somewhat more dissonant and angular here than in the preceding works, although the expressive content reflects many of the composer’s familiar characteristics.

0 Cool Is the Valley was composed in 1971, inspired by a poem of James Joyce. A calm, pastoral mood is maintained throughout.

Parable for Band, a work of very different character, appeared the following year. It is Persichetti’s most complex band composition and the ninth in his series of 25 parables, which he described somewhat enigmatically as “non-programmatic musical essays about a single germinal idea. They convey a meaning indirectly by the use of comparisons or analogies.” Using an expanded vocabulary of gestures and textures, as well as more linear material, the work unfolds in a manner that is dramatic, coherent, and thoroughly abstract.

Chorale Prelude: 0 God Unseen is Persichetti’s final piece for band. Written in 1984, it is a solemn expansion of a hymn originally appeared in the composer’s Hymns and Responses for the Church Year. 

W. SCHUMAN: String Quartets: No. 2; No. 3; No. 5.

W. SCHUMAN: String Quartets: No. 2; No. 3; No. 5. Lydian String Quartet. HARMONIA MUNDI FRANCE HMU-907114 [ODD]; 71:41. Produced by Robina Young and Paul Witt. (Distributed by Harmonia Mundi USA.)

This new CD represents a significant contribution to the discography of William Schuman, with two works that have never before appeared on recordings and one that hasn’t been available for many years. Schuman was always drawn to large forms, large forces, and large statements, as exemplified by his best-known works. However, though he devoted little attention to producing chamber music in general, at each stage of his development he was drawn to the string quartet, a medium with a long tradition of distillation, concentration, economy, and understatement, producing a series of substantial and ambitious works that display his central compositional concerns at the times he composed them.

Schuman’s music falls naturally into four style-periods, rather neatly coinciding with the phases of other aspects of his distinguished career. Also rather neatly, each of his four extant string quartets falls into one of these style-periods. The first might be termed “introductory,” and consists of those pieces written before 1939, during which time the composer seemed to be searching for a voice and a language of his own. Schuman withdrew most of these works, such as the first two symphonies and the first string quartet, but he did allow the Quartet No. 2 to remain in his active catalog. Dating from 1937 — the same year as the Symphony No. 2 — the quartet shares with that work the massive gestures and loping rhythmic patterns found in the music of Roy Harris, with whom Schuman was studying at the time and who was to remain his chief compositional influence. The earliest of his works ever to appear on recording, the fifteen-minute Quartet No. 2 is severe in tone, chromatic in its linear unfolding, and relatively dissonant in its harmonic orientation, with an angular, crabbed quality soon to be ironed out in the next style-period.

This phase, which might be termed Schuman’s “early maturity,” dates from 1939 to the mid 1940s, and includes the American Festival Overture and the Symphonies Nos. 3, 4, and 5, as well as the Third String Quartet. Among these are some of the composer’s most accessible and best-known works, although the influence of Harris is perhaps even more evident — in their simpler textures, more leisurely, expansive formal structures, and their more diatonic thematic materials, often presented in organumlike parallelism. Along with these qualities, the Third Quartet shares in common with the Third Symphony an interest in Baroque forms, which are treated in the modem American manner, as defined by Harris, who was the dominant compositional voice in this country at the time. However, the severity, introspection, and abstraction of the quartet medium do not allow for the color and flashy exuberance that give Schuman’s Third Symphony (which I have called the best symphony Harris never wrote) such wide appeal.

Schuman’s “full maturity” as a composer coincides with his tenure as president of the Juilliard School, and then as the founding president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (roughly 1945-1970). During this period, Schuman developed his own distinctively individual voice, somewhat analogous to the “International Style” in architecture — bold, urbane, and confident, with clashing metallic sonorities, hard-edged planes of sound, and nervous, tightly coiled rhythms. Comparable in many ways to the Symphony No. 6, the Quartet No. 4 (1950) belongs to this period and is probably the most incontrovertibly great of Schuman’s quartets, but as it is, alas, not included on this disc, we will not dwell on it.

In 1969 Schuman retired from public life, although he continued to compose actively. But the music of his `’retirement” phase was — with some exceptions, such as the Symphony No. 10 — more intimate, reflective, and exploratory, sometimes even experimental — in concept, if not in language. In a number of these late works Schuman subjected preexisting melodic material to his own idiosyncratic form of variation, often involving startling stylistic juxtapositions. (Of course, this was not an entirely new direction for Schuman, viz. New England Triptych.) One of his last major works, the Quartet No. 5 was composed in 1987 in memory of Vincent Persichetti, who had died that year. The second of its two movements is such a set of variations, in this case based on a simple seventeenth-century Dutch carol. It is preceded, however, by a lengthy introduction of uncommonly haunting though icily austere beauty, capturing the composer in one of his most lofty and visionary frames of mind.

I would love to praise the Lydian String Quartet’s performances of this music and thus make this an easy disc to recommend. They are not bad, mind you, and they do indeed play the exquisite first movement of the Fifth Quartet with extraordinary delicacy and poignancy. But essential to the personality of Schuman’s music are a taut muscularity and razor-sharp incisiveness often missing from these performances, which often display a gentle liquidity more suited to, say, the music of Fauré. In their heyday, the Juilliard Quartet, which was formed by Schuman and which recorded his Third and Fourth Quartets, possessed those essential qualities. But I am sure that there are other quartets that can do justice to this repertoire today.