Picks of the Year: 1991

by Walter Simmons



I was absolutely captivated by Dawn Upshaw’s recital of 20th-century vocal music reviewed in 14:4, p. 445), and I can’t imagine anyone reacting otherwise. Ernest Bloch’s two piano quintets are among his masterpieces, but have never been paired on recording before. Now, three different versions appear at the same time (reviewed in this issue).   All are excellent, but I’d pick Laurel’s if I had to pick one. Gerald Finzi’s setting of William Wordsworth’s Intimations of Immortality is probably his most impressive large-scale work reviewed in 14:3, p. 196), and is sure to touch the hearts of all those responsive to early 20th-century English choral music. Nicolas Flagello is my candidate for America’s greatest post-romantic composer, here represented by a generous program of works for piano solo and piano with percussion ensemble (reviewed in the previous issue.)   The Howard Hanson revival continues with the second installment of Gerard Schwarz’s survey of the symphonies (reviewed in 14:3, p. 211); all three works are strong, representative examples of the composer’s output.

BARBER: Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and other vocal music by Harbison, Menotti, and Stravinsky. Upshaw/Zinman/Orchestra of St. Luke’s (Elektra/Nonesuch–9 79187-2).

BLOCH: Piano Quintets Nos. 1 and 2; Cello Suite No. 1.  H. Karp/P. Karp/Pro Arte Quartet. LAUREL LR-848CD.

FINZI: Intimations of Immortality; Grand Fantasia and Toccata.Langridge/Fowke/Hickox/Royal Liverpool Chorus and Orchestra. EMI–CDC7 49913-2.

FLAGELLO: Piano Sonata; Electra; other works. Pierce/Paul Price Percussion Ensemble. PREMIER PRCD-1014.

HANSON: Symphonies Nos. 3 and 6; Fantasy Variations on a Theme of Youth. Rosenberger/Schwarz/Seattle Symphony Orchestra/New York Chamber Symphony. DELOS DE-3092.