Picks of the Year: 2001

by Walter Simmons



This year’s choices offer some very economical and efficient means of updating and refining one’s collection of the finest 20th-century music in traditional styles. Leonard Slatkin has proven to be one of the most perceptive and sympathetic conductors of Samuel Barber’s magnificent orchestral music. EMI now offers a 2-CD set for the price of one (to be reviewed in the next issue), comprising definitive performances of most of his shorter orchestral works, along with superb readings of his solo and chamber music by some of today’s most distinguished players, all adding up to about one-quarter of Barber’s entire output.

Naxos’s American Classics series provides an ideal opportunity for the most hesitant, price-conscious listener to sample some treasures from this less familiar repertoire. Howard Hanson composed some of America’s most luxuriantly appealing, readily accessible orchestral music, and this CD (reviewed in 24:4) brings together several selections that represent him at his best, for less than the price of a single movie-ticket.

John Kinsella is a born-again neo-romantic who appears to be one of Ireland’s most impressive living composers. His symphonies, brought to my attention this past year by a colleague on another magazine, are intensely powerful statements in a highly individual idiom. These two (reviewed in 22:1) are excellent examples.

Robert Muczynski is one of America’s most distinguished living traditionalist composers. He has concentrated on small chamber works and music for piano solo. These two recent CD reissues (see feature article in 24:6) bring together nearly one-third of his entire output, in excellent performances chiefly by the composer himself.

And finally, once again I feel compelled to bring to the attention of our readers a new release in whose production I had some involvement. While admitting shamelessly to the appearance of conflict-of-interest, I deny any self-serving motives when I assert without hesitation that Peter Vinograde is a thinking-person’s virtuoso of the highest order, and his performance of Copland’s Piano Fantasy is second to none—and there is some competition on this one. The Creston pieces will surprise those who think they already know the limits of this composer’s range, while Zuckerman has come up with a fresh approach to neo-classicism that resembles no other music I know.

BARBER Orchestral and Chamber Works · Oliveira, Margalit, Stepansky et al./Slatkin/St. Louis SO · EMI 7243 5 74287 2 9 (2 CDs)

HANSON Symphony No. 1, “Nordic”. Merry Mount Suite. Pan and the Priest et al. · Schermerhorn/Nashville SO · NAXOS 8.559072

KINSELLA Symphonies Nos. 3, 4· Ó Duinn/Ireland NSO · MARCO POLO 8.223766

MUCZYNSKI Piano Music et al., Vols. 1,2 · Muczynski (pn) et al. · LAUREL LR-862/3 (2 CDs)

COPLAND Piano Fantasy et al. CRESTON Metamorphoses et al. ZUCKERMAN On the Edges · Vinograde · PHOENIX PHCD 149