AMERICAN SOUVENIR • Jeannine Dennis (fl, pic); Philip Amalong (pn); Dawn Henry (cl) • ALBANY TROY718 (63:13)
FOSS Three American Pieces. PERSICHETTI Parable XII. SCHOCKER A Fond Farewell—Meditations on September 11th. Airheads for Flute and Clarinet. LEHMAN Three Souvenirs. HOOVER Medieval Suite
This is a very pleasant, nicely played recital disc. Jeannine Dennis is a talented, California-based flutist, active as a soloist in performance and on recordings. She and her colleagues have chosen a varied program of music by American composers. The most substantial piece is composer-flutist Katherine Hoover’s Medieval Suite. Described in the liner notes as “one of her most popular and successful works,” the suite deserves its currency. In it Hoover, now in her late 60s, evokes something of the flavor of 14th-century France with just a few musical archaisms. These are subtly integrated into a broadly eclectic modernist language—at times, austere, at others, hauntingly expressive—with considerable artistry. Of the few pieces of hers that I have heard, this five-movement suite is by far the most impressive. The fourth movement, “On the Betrothal of Princess Isabelle of France, Aged 6 Years,” is especially beautiful.
Lukas Foss’s Three American Pieces were originally written for violin and piano, and are usually heard in that version; Foss made this flute arrangement during the 1980s, at the request of Carol Wincenc. The Berlin-born composer, who immigrated to the United States while in his mid-teens, wrote these pleasant pieces—which truly fit the cliché, “as American as apple pie”—during the mid 1940s, when the neo-classical approach to musical Americana was at its apex. Then only in his early 20s, Foss had already assumed what was to be his lifelong role as weathervane of musical fashion, situating himself for the time being at the Stravinsky-Copland-Bernstein nexus, although the music with which he fulfilled this role was undeniably tasteful and skillfully wrought.
Parable XII is another of Vincent Persichetti’s studies for an unaccompanied monophonic instrument. These are often improvisatory fantasies on a theme or motif from one of the composer’s previous works—in this case, a diatonic hymn melody, developed atonally here. Despite the composer’s unfailing inventiveness and ingenuity, the results in these pieces often prove more challenging and intriguing to the performer than gratifying to the listener. This particular piece, dating from 1973, features the piccolo, and, expertly played though it may be, three minutes of its penetrating shrillness is just about enough.
Some vindictive performers and composers may see Mark Lehman’s Three Souvenirs (2002) as an opportunity to give the critic a taste of his own medicine, as the Cincinnati-based Lehman is a veteran reviewer for the American Record Guide and The Absolute Sound—as well as the program annotator for this CD. However, they would have a hard time finding fault with this piece. Although he purports never to have studied composition, his efforts in this direction reveal the same unerring taste and precision of detail as his reviews. The pieces at hand are homages to other composers—specifically, Fauré, Prokofiev, and Puccini. Without actually emulating the musical styles of their subjects, these gently self-effacing, gracefully-wrought sound-portraits, sensitively performed here, capture something of their respective personalities with subtlety and charm.
Now in his mid 40s, Gary Schocker is the youngest composer represented on this new release. Like Katherine Hoover, he is a practicing flutist, as well as composer; in fact, he claims to be the world’s most prolific living composer of flute music, including a concerto, entitled “Green Places,” which has been championed by James Galway, among many others. Schocker’s compositional interests also extend to the theater, for which he has written three musical shows. All the music by Schocker that I have heard is very, very melodious and accessible, and that is true of the pieces presented here as well. Composed during the days following the 9/11 attack, A Fond Farewell is gently wistful, in a Poulencian sort of way. However, its prettiness is so mild in its affect that it is hard not to find it disturbingly trivial in light of the immensity of the event it commemorates. Airheads is a duo for flute and clarinet, composed in 2002, its title being the composer’s nickname for wind players. It consists of three playfully clever trifles that pretend to be nothing more, and fulfill their intentions without complication.