DEL BORGO: Rituale. Prologue and Dance. Statements. Memoriam—Babi Yar.

DEL BORGO: Rituale. Prologue and Dance. Statements. Memoriam—Babi Yar. Crane School of Music Wind Ensemble conducted by Anthony Joseph Maiello. GOLDEN CREST ATHDG-5079 (digital), produced by Clark Galehouse.

Golden Crest’s “Authenticated Composers Series” has made the music of many Amer­ican composers—some relatively obscure—available to the record-buying public. Each re­lease in this valuable and informative series concentrates entirely on one individual, allowing a fuller introduction to the composer’s musical personality than is possible on the conven­tional “contemporary miscellany” disc. Among the more rewarding past releases in the series have been programs featuring Vincent Persichetti, Alfred Reed, and Judith Lang Zaimont.

This latest disc presents music by Elliot Del Borgo, a former student of Persichetti and now a faculty member of the Crane School of Music, part of the State University of New York at Potsdam. Though only in his mid-40s, Del Borgo has some 75 works to his credit, many of them designed for musicians of moderate proficiency. Nearly half his output comprises music for symphonic band, and it is this portion of his work that is sampled here.

The four compositions on this disc communicate fluently through the band dialect of American Neo-Romanticism—a language whose roots lie unmistakably in the music of Howard Hanson. The earmarks of this style include a strong melodic emphasis (either warm and solemn or brash and assertive in character), modal chorale harmonizations, polytonal con­flicts spiked by an abundance of flashy percussion effects, syncopated rhythmic ostinatos, and a directly expressive orientation controlled by a tight sense of pacing that never permits a dull moment. Although he never ventures outside these parameters, Del Borgo proves him­self a superior practitioner of the genre, as each piece fulfills the basic requirements com­pletely. Perhaps it is all a bit too glib, and one misses the signs of an individual voice; but the music evinces such vitality and expertise that one can safely predict that anyone with a taste for the style will enjoy this disc immensely.

Anthony Joseph Maiello conducts the Crane Wind Ensemble with requisite vigor and bite, although there are a few clinkers. The recorded sound is excellent, as are the surfaces. 

I understand that Del Borgo’s chamber music moves in other stylistic directions, and that Golden Crest is soon to release a recording of his saxophone sonata. I will be interested to explore his music further. 

CHAUSSON: Concert in D for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet.

CHAUSSON: Concert in D for Violin, Piano, and String Quartetltzhak Perlman, violin; Jorge Bolet, piano; Juilliard String Quartet. CBS MASTERWORKS IM-37814 (digital), produced by Steven Epstein.

With the appearance of its second digital recording, I suppose that the Chausson Concert can no longer be considered a “neglected” masterpiece. By now it has been recorded by quite a few celebrated artists, the most recent of whom was Lorin Maazel, as violin soloist on a Telarc release also featuring lsraela Margalit as pianist, with the Cleveland Orchestra Quartet. That was a good performance—up to a point—and so is this new CBS rendition—in fact, the two are not all that different from each other. True, Perlman’s violin playing is smooth and lustrous, while Maazel’s is a little shaky; and Bolet’s playing is a bit flaccid, while Mar­galit’s is more incisive. On the whole, the Perlman performance is pervasively mellow, while Maazel’s interpretation depends more on contrasts of mood and tempo. Yet these differ­ences are very minor in degree. In actuality, the performances share much more in common: They are both very romantic and, at times, allow their notion of what “romantic” playing is to lead them away from the natural syntax of the music—what might be called interpretive dogma. Both performances also strive for a consistently velvety sound and a mood of genteel languor. This is particularly true of the new Perlman performance; the Maazel does have its moments of agitation and excitement. Both quartets are smoothly polished and both re­cordings offer clear, sumptuous sonic splendor.

I am pleased that today’s leading musicians are turning their attention to a work that I have long regarded as one of the masterpieces of 19th-century chamber music. But what is unsatisfactory about Perlman’s rendition especially is symptomatic of today’s “superstar” performers and their mass-market approach to classical music: polished virtuosity narcissistically oblivious to the music it is supposed to serve. Unlike his counterpart of yesterday, whose coarseness and vulgarity was usually blatantly obvious, today’s more sophisticated brand of virtuoso has learned to affect “tonal beauty,” to suggest “romantic emotion” with slow tempos, and to avoid the tackiness of excessive rubato. But despite the veneer of refinement, it’s still interpretation by numbers, dead musicianship, devoid of insight, embalmed to simulate the real thing. It is what a friend of mine calls “the Bjorn Borg approach to music-making”; you can hear it when Pavarotti sings, when Mehta conducts, and you can hear it when Perlman plays, to name just a few of many examples.

As I opined at some length in my review of the Telarc recording (Fanfare IV:2, pp. 92-3), Chausson’s Concert is an eloquent work of intense emotion and an important precursor of impressionism. Its considerable significance is not at all conveyed by this CBS release. (For evidence of what is missing, listen to the now-defunct Mace recording, MCS-9074, that fea­tured John Corigliano, Sr., and Ralph Votapek.) In listening to this disc and reading the jack­et, I wondered that it was chosen for recording at all. In his typically simplistic annotation, Peter Eliot Stone offers nothing to entice the prospective purchaser to consider this music—or to enhance the understanding of the listener, simply reiterating conventional clichés about Chausson that reveal little familiarity with his unique qualities or his true place in the evolution of French music. Perlman, the violinistic equivalent of “just another pretty face,” goes through the piece without losing his smile, while Bolet yawns and tries to stay awake. Is this what they mean by “world-class musicianship? 

McKINLEY: Paintings VI. Six Impromptus. MEKEEL: Alarums and Excursions. Rune.

McKINLEY: Paintings VI. Six Impromptus. MEKEEL: Alarums and Excursions. Rune. Katherine Lenel, actress/mezzo-soprano; Boston Musica Viva conducted by Richard Pittman. NORTHEASTERN NR-203, produced by L. E. Joiner

Unfortunately, the meticulous production values of Northeastern Records have been expended here on music of awfully paltry quality. Both William Thomas McKinley and Joyce Mekeel belong to the generation of composers born in the 1930s, and are currently located in Boston—McKinley at the New England Conservatory and Mekeel at Boston University. The pieces on this disc date from 1977-1980 and share a number of features in common: Both are composed in the fragmentary, disjointed, and relentlessly ugly style that was de rigueur for their generation a decade or two ago, but which has since been abandoned by many of their colleagues as an artistic dead end and a socio-cultural lost cause. McKinley and Mekeel do bring a modicum of artistic sensibility to the shaping of their creations, and the pieces are presented in the best possible light, through luminescent performances by the Boston Musica Viva. But the music’s meager virtues are overshadowed by outrageously unjustified pretenses: McKinley writes of his Paintings VI,”Acting as a microcosm for all exis­tence through the symbolic development of the forces, ideas, and attitudes that color experi­ence, this life process is given correspondent relationships in the musical structure.” Bill, watch those dangling participles. And the music—somehow it all suggests the work of an overly self-confident second-year composition student. But this is modest, compared to Joyce Mekeel’s Alarums and Excursions, a sound collage of largely spoken poetic fragments (whose sources range from Aeschylus to Mekeel) intoned ominously over a sparse instrumental fabric. While listening to it, I realized it would be most appropriate in a Neil Simon-type play, as a caricatured example of “modern music”—the kind everyone loves to hate.  

Even if Northeastern Records insists on restricting itself to composers from New Eng­land, I find it hard to believe that they can’t come up with anything better than this. One wonders whether someone actually made a conscious decision to select this music for recording, or Whether it was simply the result of some depersonalized bureaucratic compromise.

LANGGAARD: Symphony No. 6, “Heaven-Storming.” Music of the Spheres

LANGGAARD: Symphony No. 6, “Heaven-Storming.” Music of the Spheres. Edith Guil­laume, soprano (Spheres); Danish Radio Chorus and Orchestra (Spheres) conducted by John Frandsen; auxiliary orchestra conducted by Peter Weis; DANACORD D.M.A. 064, produced by Ingolf Gabold (Symphony) and Peter Willernoes

For the past 10 or 15 years there has been an unmistakable, if modest, wave of musicological interest in Northern European symphonic music of the 20th century. Yet, while listeners pursue their enthusiasms for Pettersson, Brian, Rubbra, Sallinen, and others (stimu­lated by vigorous recording activity in their respective countries), the Danish composer Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) remains surprisingly unknown. I say surprisingly because, apart from the merit of his music (usually a relatively small factor in the attention drawn to a composer), Langgaard was a fascinatingly provocative and enigmatic figure. Defiantly romantic, he sought to embody grand spiritual visions in his music. Though he earned his liv­ing as a church organist, he composed 16 symphonies, with subtitles such as “Defoliation,” “Belief in Miracles,” “Flood of Sun,” in addition to the “Heaven-Storming” heard on this disc.

Langgaard’s early works were rooted in the language of mainstream Central European Romanticism. However, toward the end of World War I, he began to explore more unconven­tional techniques: tone-clusters, a kind of angular, dissonant polyphony, and, particularly, a static approach to texture and sonority that might be said to anticipate, in a very crude way, developments of 50 years ahead. These seemingly incompatible stylistic threads are jux­taposed with bewildering incongruity in Music of the Spheres and in Langgaard’s magnum opus, Antikrist, an opera-oratorio that occupied him for 20 years and was recently broadcast in Denmark.

According to Bo Marschner’s article in The New Grove (very little has been written on Langgaard in English), during the 1920s he became so infuriated by the mundane objectivity of the neoclassical trends then flourishing that he abandoned his radical experimentation (which had all been wildly cosmic in intent) after less than a decade, and reverted to a stub­bornly reactionary romanticism. This he accompanied by virulent polemical attacks on the prevailing music establishment. As with Pettersson, such refusal to “play ball” was rewarded by total ostracism from his musical community.

What is the music like? In its metaphysics it suggests Bruckner and Scriabin; on the other hand, composers like Ives, Brian, and even Grainger or Cowell come to mind as musico-historical analogies—visionaries interesting more for what they attempted than for what they achieved, who often combined the most radical and most conventional elements simultaneously, and who seemed hampered by technical incompetence in realizing their visions convincingly. In sound, Langgaard offers a truly strange, often very static and un­digested array of associations, from Wagner and Liszt to Nielsen to proto-Ligeti.

Both works on this disc date from the late teens, or shortly thereafter, and represent two of Langgaard’s most “important” compositions, in the conventional musicological sense, i.e., they are among his most experimental ventures. However, they are not necessarily his most successfully realized ones. Music of the Spheres comprises some 15 sections and lasts about 35 minutes. The work is accompanied by the motto, “The stars may seem to twinkle kindly, but their message is cold and merciless.” The individual sections also bear captions like “Longing, desperation, and ecstasy,” “About seeing the sun through tears,” “Like sunbeams upon a flower-decked coffin.” Much of the choral contribution is wordless and atmospheric, while the soprano has one solo, set to a poem by Ida Lock. The work does contain galvanizing moments that seem always on the verge of launching into really satisfy­ing music. But such moments usually prove to be abortive, and the work gropes clumsily from one section to the next, ultimately providing the rather frustrating feeling of unfulfilled expectation.

The Symphony No. 6. “Heaven-Storming” followed closely on the heels of Music of the Spheres. It is another work of grand ambition, bearing the motto, “Then Jesus used force and drove the storming armies of evil under the canopy of heaven…. ” While the earlier work re­veals Langgaard reaching in the direction of a Ligeti, the “Heaven-Storming,” a far more linear work, displays a polyphony not unlike that of Hindemith. However, if Music of the Spheres suffers from insufficient motion, then this symphony suffers from an excess of activ­ity. The work plunges headlong into a turbulent morass of grim, undifferentiated contrapuntal sludge, punctuated occasionally by apocalyptic climaxes. After a while the effect becomes as static as in the other work.

I am interested to hear more of Langgaard’s music. His Symphony No. 4. “Defoliation” (Danish EMI 6C 063-38100) is a far more romantic work and adds another dimension to the picture presented on this disc. On the basis of what I have heard thus far, Langgaard ap­pears to be an intriguing character whose reach far exceeded his grasp.

These concert peformances are adequate, and are reproduced well on a disc that lasts nearly an hour.

FINZI: Intimations of Immortality. Cello Concerto. In Terra Pax. A Severn Rhapsody. Introit. Nocturne (New Year Music). Prelude. Three Soliloquies. Romance. The Fall of the Leaf. Farewell to Arms. Two Milton Sonnets. Let Us Garlands Bring.

FINZI: Intimations of Immortality. Ian Partridge, tenor; Guildford Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley. LYRITA SRCS 75

FINZI: A Severn Rhapsody. Introit. Nocturne (New Year Music). Prelude. Three Soliloquies. Romance. The Fall of the Leaf. London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. LYRITA SRCS 84

FINZI: Farewell to Arms. Two Milton Sonnets. Let Us Garlands Bring. In Terra Pax. Ian Partridge, tenor (Farewell; Milton); John Carol Case, baritone (Garlands); Jane Manning, soprano and John Noble, baritone (Terra Pax); John Alldis Choir (Terra Pax); New Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley. LYRITA SRCS 93

FINZI: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra. Yo-Yo Ma, cello; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley. LYRITA SRCS 112

This review heralds the increased accessibility in the United States of four magnificent recordings of music by Gerald Finzi, all originally released in England on Lyrita during the late 1970s. The performance of Intimations of Immortality had been licensed at one time to Musical Heritage Society, and was available on MHS 3598; the disc of short orchestral works conducted by Boult had been issued on the defunct HNH label (4077). It is indeed fortunate to have these discs available to American collectors, so many of whom seemed to discover this extraordinary composer just as the records were dropping out of circulation. The original Lyrita pressings are superb—better than the erstwhile MHS and HNH alternatives.

If one were to try to specify the “essential” Gerald Finzi on records, these four discs would probably comprise the best selection. A choice is difficult, but one can reasonably claim Intimations of Immortality as perhaps the composer’s most fully realized major work, reflecting on a large scale both the majestic nobility and breadth and the sensitivity to poetic meaning so characteristic of Finzi. It is interesting to reflect on the similarities between this work and The Dream of Gerontius, to which it is deeply indebted musically, and, in many ways, is a worthy sequel. Though completed a full half-century after Elgar’s oratorio, there is virtually nothing in the later work that would be stylistically inappropriate in the earlier one. (To quote Finzi scholar Diana McVeagh, describing another piece: “This music is itself a symbol, and by being so ‘out of time’ becomes timeless.”) Is it a coincidence that, while Elgar’s work deals with the journey of a soul from life to after-life, Finzi’s contemplates the passage from pre-life into life?

Representing another side of.Finzi’s art is the disc containing seven short orchestral pieces, conducted by the late Sir Adrian Boult. While some may find the repeated expres­sions of restrained, elegiac lyricism too much for one sitting, almost every piece is a gem on its own terms (my favorites are the Introit, Romance, and The Fall of the Leaf). Perfect for late-night listening, this disc is a must for every Finzi lover.

SRCS 93 presents four works that demonstrate Finzi’s mastery of poetic setting on a smaller scale—which many would probably assert is Finzi’s greatest gift of all. Here he un­dertakes, respectively, five Shakespeare settings (dedicated to Vaughan Williams on his 70th birthday), two of Milton, poems by Ralph Knevet and George Peele (16th-17th cen­turies), and a 20th-century Christmas poem by Robert Bridges. These four works depict vari­ous aspects of Finzi’s undeniably narrow stylistic range, from the lighter, almost folk-like tunes in the Shakespeare settings (listen once to “It was a lover and his lass” and you will never forget it), through the darker, more probing Milton settings, through the more outgoing, straightforwardly descriptive In Terra Pax, to Farewell to Arms, with its Bach-arioso-like melody, Finzi’s most identifiable trademark. As always, the taste is impeccable, the tre­mendous intelligence never failing, the music never uninteresting.

The fourth disc contains Finzi’s Cello Concerto, his last major work. In it he reached beyond the perimeter within which he was usually content to remain. Though not his only major abstract work, it is clearly his most ambitious. Here he sought not only to master the challenge of a large formal structure, but also, through it, to express a more complex, varied range of emotions than was usual for him. This undertaking was no doubt influenced by an awareness that the Cello Concerto was to be one of his final works. Again Elgar comes to mind—in this case, his valedictory cello concerto—as an obvious point of comparison. While Finzi’s overall stylistic debt to Elgar is beyond dispute, his concerto is an estimable work in its own right. Elgar’s is clearly a retrospective work, by a composer of weakened creativity—its strengths are best appreciated when viewed with an indulgent critical eye. Finzi’s concerto, written by a man still in his prime, is a clearer, more balanced structure, at times revealing an aggressive, defiant spirit. However, 41 minutes is a long time for a composer like Finzi to sus­tain interest; while the second movement—familiar territory for him—is lovely, the outer movements show a degree of strain and their energy does flag noticeably. Nevertheless, it is a worthy contribution among cello concertos, and one that provides pleasant respite from the standard array of empty virtuoso vehicles. It is, ironically, noteworthy that a celebrated soloist like Yo-Yo Ma has taken the initiative of introducing the public to an unusual work like this, and I look forward to his continued interest in this and other works that can enrich the stagnant concerto repertoire. I am often asked how it is that conductors and soloists who claim to be concerned with broadening their audiences and rejuvenating the repertoire can pass over the music of composers like Finzi, in favor of some obviously incoherent sham per­petrated by a composer who has managed to elbow himself momentarily into the limelight, or a stale warhorse that has long ago lost whatever luster it may have had. I recently had the oc­casion to speak with Yo-Yo Ma, and asked him whether he had many opportunities to per­form the Finzi concerto, which he plays beautifully on this recording. He replied that he has tried repeatedly to interest conductors in the work. However, he has discovered that since they are unfamiliar with Finzi’s music, they simply dismiss it on the assumption that it couldn’t be worth the effort to learn. (I find that amateur music aficionados are invariably incredulous to learn that, in many cases, their sophistication in matters of repertoire exceeds that of quite a few celebrated artists.)

The performances on all four of these records are superb, as is the sound quality throughout. Among the many fine musicians represented, the extraordinary artistry of tenor Ian Partridge warrants special mention. Great praise also goes to Lyrita, a company whose high standards in every aspect of production set an example for the industry. It is through recordings like these that music lovers around the world have begun to discover some of the treasures from the past hundred years of English music. 

SCHWANTNER: New Morning for the World. COPLAND: A Lincoln Portrait. WALKER. An Eastman Overture.

SCHWANTNER: New Morning for the World. COPLAND: A Lincoln Portrait. WALKER. An Eastman Overture. Willie Stargell, narrator (Schwantner); William Warfield, narrator (Copland); Eastman Philharmonia conducted by David Effron. MERCURY 289-411 031-1, pro­duced by John Santuccio and Rayburn Wright

Following the musical development of Joseph Schwantner rather closely for several years has given me a strong feeling of ambivalence. On the one hand, an authentic musical sensibility can be discerned, together with an impetus toward direct and clear communica­tion, and a gift for combining highly imaginative sonorities with affecting melodic/harmonic motifs. The result is a greater emotional immediacy than most of Schwantner’s contem­poraries have been able to accomplish. On the other hand, after becoming familiar with even a small number of his works, one begins to realize that Schwantner’s range is quite narrow, relying on a small number of different devices: richly colored ascending arpeggios that are subsequently fragmented and re-articulated through staggered, interlocking effects; deli­cate use of percussion; lusciously orchestrated pyramids that build dramatically, often to solemn quasi-chorales, which cut abruptly to hushed, awesome, slightly elegiac quasi-hymns, squeezing every last tear from poignant appoggiaturas. All of this is quite irresistible on a purely endocrine level, but the effect is more predictable with each new piece.

What is especially disturbing, however, is that Schwantner—very much like such other young Americans as John Corigliano, David Del Tredici, Thomas Pasatieri, and even Philip Glass, in their own respective styles—seems to have focused his effort specifically on those effects that will engender the “big bang” from his audience, bypassing aspects of musical composition that may be harder to achieve. Overlooked, in particular, is the integration of emotional effect with musical development, which requires both disciplined formal logic and a strong contrapuntal foundation. While such virtues may not necessarily be appreciated on an initial encounter, they are essential for prolonged appreciation and enjoyment. In general this laxity seems to distinguish many of the “New Romantics” from the older generations of “Modern American Traditionalists,” exemplified by Giannini, Creston, Persichetti, Mennin, Flagello—or Copland, for that matter, who certainly was able to reach an audience instantly, without sacrificing craftsmanship. It is a matter of commitment to quality, regardless of immediate payoff, and has absolutely nothing to do with the question of accessibility vs. obscurity.

I feel this ambivalence more intensely in regard to Schwantner than to many of his col­leagues, largely because of the considerable extent of his gifts, and I feel it more strongly in reaction to New Morning for the World, one of his most recent works, than to any other I have heard. First performed earlier this year on Martin Luther King’s birthday, the 27-minute orchestral work includes readings from speeches by the black leader.

One has the distinct impression that Schwantner has tried to produce something along the lines of A Lincoln Portrait, certainly a masterpiece of the genre, and comparisons are in­evitable. Both works attempt a tasteful evocation of patriotic sentiment—a difficult endeavor, especially in today’s world when reactions to such efforts can vary widely, from jaded cynicism, to begrudging acknowledgment, to sincere pride and nobility, depending on one’s temperamental susceptibility as well as one’s political feelings. I have always found Sandburg’s presentation of Lincoln’s words to be quite sensitive and, indeed, inspiring. And, despite a general distaste for pieces that include narration, I find Copland’s music so ideally suited to its subject and so effectively constructed around the spoken portions that I never fail to admire it when I encounter it during the normal course of things; and my reaction seems to be echoed by most people, judging from the reception it is usually accorded. A Lincoln Portrait differs significantly from Schwantner’s piece in its use of folk melodies as thematic source material, giving it a more overtly national flavor than the more recent work displays. On this disc, incidentally, Copland’s piece is given a performance of breadth and richness, read ably by William Warfield. I would recommend this as a good choice for anyone seeking a new recording of the piece.

From the standpoint of a general concert audience hearing it for the first time, New Morning for the World achieves much the same sort of inspired nobility—indeed, I suspect many will be quite bowled over by it. Here, more than in any of his previous works known to me, Schwantner embraces the symphony orchestra’s capacity for richly romantic expression, thereby enhancing the almost hypnotic intensity of King’s words. The work builds to a climax of great emotional power, which some listeners will liken to a corresponding point in Panufnik’s Sinfonia Sacra. Yet, for the reasons described earlier, repeated listening, while not destroying my enjoyment of the work, has made me more aware of its rather obvious weaknesses and over-calculated effects. It is somewhat like weeping at a sentimental melo­drama, while being fully conscious of the devices employed to induce such a visceral response. New Morning for the World  is too long by a good one-third, padded by superfluous repetition, and too dependent on increases in orchestral texture and dynamic level as means of heightening its emotional impact.

Former baseball star Willie Stargell, who has been the sole narrator of Schwantner s work since its premiere, is given top billing on the disc. The contrivance of this gesture is mitigated by the fact that Stargell serves as an excellent speaker. Although ostensibly in­experienced in such a role, he captures the almost incantorial rhythms of King’s prose with remarkable sensitivity. The orchestra performs superbly, as it generally does on its record­ings. The sound quality is also up to Eastman/Mercury’s usual high standards, although it is cut at a very low decibel level, so that a high gain setting is necessary.

George Walker’s eight-minute Eastman Overture is an uncomfortable attempt to create a breezy, concise piece in an essentially Berg-like, expressionistic vein. The Overture shows a degree of competence, but its incompatible elements prove unwieldy. Whether one likes the piece or not, however, it certainly deserves more commentary than the one sentence it is granted on the liner. In keeping with the informal, “everyman” sort of concept behind this disc, virtually no program notes are included. What little there are concentrate on Stargell’s cliché-ridden account of the experience of performing with an orchestra (“… it’s a BIG jump from the ballpark to Carnegie Hall!” ). I join my colleagues in protesting the decline in quality and quantity of program notes supplied by the major record companies. This is an insult to the consumer that should be recognized as such.

PANUFNIK Concerto Festivo. Concertino. Landscape. Katyri Epitaph

PANUFNIK: Concerto Festivo. Concertino. Landscape. Katyri Epitaph. Kurt-Hans Goedicke, timpani; Michael Frye, percussion (Concertino); London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrzej Panufnik. UNICORN-KANCHANA DKP-9016 (digital), produced by Morton Winding.

During the 20 years or so that I have been following the music of Andrzej Panufnik, his international stature has grown considerably. When I chose Panufnik as a subject for my graduate work, his strange, unfamiliar name provided an inexhaustible stimulus for ridicule among the faculty at my highly esteemed conservatory. (However, after I left, I was told that the Sinfonia Sacra had become part of the orchestration curriculum.) In the meantime, nearly all of Panufnik’s major works have found themselves on disc—and in first-rate performances and recordings. Many of these recordings have been discussed in Fanfare (11:4, pp. 89-90; IV:2, pp. 152-3; V:6, pp. 164-5). Virtually all of them exhibit remarkable care in production, right down to the jacket designs, which are always unusually tasteful, and the liner notes, which are extremely literate and informative. Now, in recent months, two new digital recordings appear: one, a Hyperion disc (A66050) featuring Panufnik’s new Sinfonia Votiva (backed by Sessions’ Concerto for Orchestra) performed by the Boston Symphony under Ozawa; and the other, the disc at hand.

Although Panufnik is one of today’s most fascinating and provocative composers, he has also proven to be a rather uneven one—indeed, the music itself often fails to live up to the meticulous packaging (e.g., the EMI recording of the Violin Concerto and Sinfonia Concertante and the Decca Head recording of Sinfonia di Sfere and Sinfonia Mistica). The composer is prone to issuing pious statements affirming his dedication to a balance between significant poetic content and a strong autonomous structure. Of course, few composers would be so foolish as to reject such an artistic imperative, but to achieve it is not so easy. Panufnik’s approach entails the creation of elaborate quasi-mystical structural designs, with materials limited strictly to the most rigorously controlled intervallic cells. But an element of self-delusion seems to underlie his noble intentions. Often there is no balance: The structural machinery simply seizes control and generates a rigidly dehumanized bore, either preciously rarefied or numbingly banal (or both: Sinfonia Votiva offers a movement of each—caveat emptor!). On the whole, disappointingly few of his works have reached the transcen­dental heights of Sinfonia Sacra, Autumn Music, or Sinfonia Elegiaca (which really deserves a more polished recorded performance).

However, Panufnik enthusiasts should find this new Unicorn disc, produced with the considerable help of Shell UK, to be one of the more rewarding additions to his catalog. The two large works here are the most recent, the Concerto Festivo and Concertino dating from 1979 and 1980, respectively. Concerto Festivo, commissioned for the London Symphony Orchestra, is a sort of “concerto for orchestra,” Panufnik-style. While not especially profound, it is far more rewarding than others of the composer’s “showpiece” works, such as the Rhapsody, and presents his unmistakable language, with its strange bittersweet harmony and motivic obsessiveness, in a pleasing context.

The Concertino for timpani, percussion, and strings is a more introspective work. While not an instant knockout, here the strange idiosyncrasies— economy of gesture, simplicity of materials, and sophistication of structure—are held in exquisite balance, and the magic works, conveying the sort of breathtaking subtlety and extraordinary sonic imagination found in Autumn Music. This is perhaps the most successful of Panufnik’s recent compositions.

The two shorter pieces, Landscape and Katyn Epitaph, date from the 1960s. Each dis­plays the “sound” that is most easily and directly associated with Panufnik—a deeply elegiac tone and rich, triadic harmony, widely spaced, with prominent major-minor blends. After the “Hymn” from Sinfonia Sacra, which carries this effect to its apotheosis, anything of the kind appears anticlimactic. Nevertheless, these two pieces are haunting and moving enough in their own rights.

As usual, everything else about this deluxe release—performances, sound quality, surfaces, jacket design, liner notes—is splendid.

SCRIABIN: Symphonies: No. 1 in E, Op. 26; No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 29; No. 3 in C, Op. 43.

SCRIABIN: Symphonies: No. 1 in E, Op. 26; No. 2 in Minor, Op. 29; No. 3 in C, Op. 43 (“Di­vine Poem”). L. Avdeyeva, mezzo-soprano; A. Grigoriev, tenor; RSFSR Russian Chorus (No. 1); U.S.S.R. Symphony Orchestra conducted by Yevgeni Svetlanov. MUSICAL HERITAGE SOCIETY MHS-834587 (three discs), produced by Igor Veprintsev and Aleksander Grosman.

SCRIABIN: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 29. Symphonie Canadiana conducted by Yon­dani Butt. ORION ORS-83451, produced by Marion Cornfield. 

The listener who is ready to pursue Scriabin’s first three symphonies has a fair range of possible recordings from which to choose, with considerable musical rewards in each price category. My review of the splendid, but expensive, Philips set (6769 041 PSI), containing luscious, handsomely wrought performances of all five symphonies by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony under Eliahu Inbal, appeared in Fanfare V:1 (pp. 170-173). Many collectors are already likely to own individual recordings of the two later works, Poem of Ecstasy and Prometheus, Poem of Fire. (I recommend Maazel’s brilliant performances, on London 7129 and 6732, respectively.)

Therefore, Musical Heritage Society’s recent set containing the three earlier works, at a modest price, is a useful issue. These are the same Melodiya recordings that were available during the 1970s on Angel, and they are quite good performances. The orchestra plays well, if one can accept the slight coarseness—especially in the brass—characteristic of Russian ensembles. Svetlanov has the style of these works—the ebb and flow of their throbbing, sumptuous textures, their languid ruminations unsettled by undercurrents of restlessness—well in hand, making this set an excellent introduction to the music. While no match for the velvety sonics of the Philips set, the sound quality of the MHS discs is quite good, aside from a slight stridency at the climaxes.

In my review of the Inbal/Philips set I discussed the first three symphonies individually, along with the conventional attitudes toward them, at some length. Therefore I will try to refrain from repeating myself and direct the interested reader to that review, while encourag­ing any aficionados of late-Romantic orchestral music who are not familiar with these works (and I am continually amazed to learn that there are many) to give them a chance. They are a hedonist’s delight, permeated by a generous vein of gorgeous melody that will ingratiate those intimidated by their notorious “heaviness,” while displaying an ingenuous joie de vivre that will disarm those who are suspicious of their grandiose philosophical pretensions. From the very first phrase of the Symphony No. 1, with its wide-arching statement, yawning and leisurely awakening, Scriabin’s distinctive melodic voice is clearly evident. Not only are these works rewarding in their own right, but they serve as fascinating links in the strange evolution of one of the most fertile and provocative minds in musical history. The word “early,” inciden­tally, often used in describing these compositions, can lead one to forget that all five symphonies were completed within a single decade: 1900-1910.

For those interested in sampling just one, the best place to start is the Symphony No. 3, “Divine Poem,” in the performance by the Warsaw Philharmonic under Jerzy Semkow’s direction (Stolat SZM-0118—see Fanfare V:5, p. 203). The “Divine Poem” is the most fully realized of the three pieces under discussion, and this recording is both extremely good and extremely inexpensive. (Interested purchasers are urged to act quickly: rumor has it that the Stolat line may soon be dropped.) By contrast, the Russian performance conducted by Vladimir Fedoseyev on Vox Cum Laude is devoid of the inner turbulence and unrest necessary to keep these pieces in motion, and therefore drowns in its own languor. (P.J.R. ex­pressed a more favorable reaction in Fanfare VI:4, pp. 252-3.) On the MHS set at hand, the otherwise fine Svetlanov performance is marred by the omission, believe it or not, of the work’s final note: a unison reiteration of the tonic. (Strange as it may seem, in the context of a cadence that does, shall we say, have its redundancies, this omission is not quite as glaring as one might expect.)

Scriabin’s Symphony No. 2 is probably the weakest of the five symphonies, despite many appealing qualities. In it the composer attempted a degree of formal integration that, in theory, exceeded the structural sophistication of its predecessor. However, the result is flat­footed, pompous, and predictable in its phraseology—a point acknowledged even by the composer himself, who was not noted for self-criticism. It remains an endearing work to Scriabin enthusiasts, however, by dint of its melodic appeal, its high aspirations, and its unfailing gusto.

The notion of a young orchestra like the Symphonie Canadiana taking on a work of the scope of Scriabin’s Symphony No. 2 is so ambitious as to seem foolhardy. However, Yondani Butt and his group, who have already made an auspicious appearance on records in a program of short orchestral works (Orion ORS-82433–see Fanfare VI:5, pp. 285-6) seem joined in a rather remarkable partnership. The conductor shows considerable intelligence and musical sensitivity in his shaping of this difficult and problematical work, and his orchestra—only seven years old—cooperates in a sophisticated, refined performance rivaling Svetlanov’s rendition of the work. Moreover, the sound quality of this Orion disc is quite brilliant.

I don’t know anything about the background dynamics of this orchestra and its conductor, but they appear to have the kind of rare collaboration of musical vision which, in conjunc­tion with a record company like Orion, could result in some really meaningful contributions to today’s dull, philistine music scene. Having demonstrated the courage to tackle major orchestral works outside the standard repertoire, they would be well-advised to concentrate on some important compositions for which there is no recorded competition—works like Ernest Bloch’s Symphony in C-sharp minor, for example. Not only will this make a greater con­tribution to our musical life, but it will give Butt and the Symphonie Canadiana far greater prominence. I will be interested to follow the development of this orchestra and its conductor, and hope they receive the attention they deserve.

Vincent Persichetti • Choral Works (Winter Cantata, Mass, Love) Liner Notes

Vincent Persichetti • Choral Works (Winter Cantata, Mass, Love) New World 80316-2

For the past three decades the name of Vincent Persichetti has come to signify musicianship of a comprehensiveness virtually unmatched among American composers. His influence reaches young pianists nurtured on his Sonatinas and Little Piano Book, school musicians who first experience serious contemporary music through his works for band (among them Pageant, New World Records 80211-2), church choirs who turn to his Hymns and Responses for the Church Year as an inexhaustible resource, young composers who have attended his spell-binding lecture-recitals or who find his classic textbook Twentieth Century Harmony indispensable, and soloists and conductors for whom his sonatas, concertos, and symphonies stand among the masterworks of American music. Persichetti represents an attitude that encourages healthy creative participation at all levels of sophistication and shuns dogmas that revere one school of composition at the expense of others.

Persichetti was born on June 6, 1915, in Philadelphia. At the age of five he was enrolled in the Combs Conservatory, where he learned to play the piano, organ, and double bass. He also studied theory and composition under Russell King Miller, who became his most influential teacher. In his teens Persichetti memorized the scores to be performed at weekly concerts of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and then attended the concerts to compare his inner perceptions against the actual sounds. Before graduating from high school he had performed a good deal on radio, in churches, and in recitals. Composition was an integral part of his musical activity from the start, as was exposure to other arts. Persichetti attended art school during his adolescence, and sculpture continues to be an important creative outlet for him.

On graduating from the Combs Conservatory with a Bachelor of Music degree in 1936, Persichetti became head of its theory and composition departments. He also continued studying—piano with Olga Samaroff, composition with Paul Nordoff at the Philadelphia Conservatory (Master of Music 1941; Doctor of Music 1945), and conducting with Fritz Reiner at the Curtis Institute. From 1932 to 1948 he served as organist and choirmaster at Philadelphia’s Arch Street Presbyterian Church, where he performed organ versions of excerpts from the dozens of complex modern scores he was studying. In 1941 the Philadelphia Conservatory appointed Persichetti to head the theory and composition departments, and in 1947 William Schuman invited him to join the Juilliard faculty as well. He became chairman of the Juilliard composition department in 1963 and of the Literature and Materials department in 1970.

Throughout his active teaching career Persichetti has continued to compose prodigiously, producing a body of works now numbering more than 150, including nine symphonies, four string quartets, twelve piano sonatas, and assorted pieces for almost every instrument and ensemble. Through his vast output—and through his writings and lectures as well—Persichetti has argued eloquently on behalf of an amalgamation of virtually all musical materials and techniques, past and present, into a fluent working vocabulary, or “common practice,” capable of a full spectrum of expression. In Persichetti’s music this has entailed a broad stylistic palette, extending from extreme diatonic simplicity to complex, densely contrapuntal atonality. This range has not evolved according to a chronological sequence, which has bewildered many who have tried to infer a conventional pattern of development from casual exposure to his music. Rather, Persichetti has defined two temperamental elements that have been present in his work from the beginning: a “gracious” or amiable spirit and a “gritty” or abrasive one. These two elements underlie his entire output, to one degree or another, in a variety of stylistic guises, depending on the requirements of the piece itself. The essential Persichetti dictum, stated at both the beginning and the end of his Twentieth Century Harmony, “Any tone can succeed any other tone… depending upon the skill and the soul of the composer,” might be paraphrased to describe his own output: “Any work can succeed any other work….”

Persichetti’s wide range of expression has made it difficult for some listeners to discern a personal profile or unifying character in his music. With greater familiarity, however, a clearly recognizable personality emerges, characterized by a pervasive geniality of spirit in full control of whatever dynamic conflicts may be at work within the music. Following the lineage of Mozart and Mendelssohn, Persichetti seems to exult in the childlike joy of pure musical creativity. He is fond of pandiatonic, quartal, and polytonal harmony, lucid textures, and playful, vital rhythms. Absent are bombast, sentimentality, or Romantic self-involvement, even in works marked by agitation and conflict. Although Persichetti has often worked with large structures, he is inclined toward sparse gestures and epigrammatic forms—indeed, many of his large works are built upon diminutive concepts.

Persichetti’s choral music plays an important role in his output. Hymns and Responses for the Church Year, Op. 68, provide thematic source material on which Persichetti has drawn for many subsequent works. The use of self-quotation—musical inventories, cross-references, and indexes—as a compositional device suggests an archival intellectual bent consistent with the eclecticism so deeply rooted in his nature. This same attitude is reflected in the selection of texts for the Hymns and Responses, from the Bible through Shakespeare and Milton to Louis Untermeyer and Conrad Aiken. Persichetti’s comprehensive world view is probably epitomized in The Creation, Op. 111, for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, which the composer regards as his chef-d’oeuvre. It is more than an hour in duration, and its text has more than fifty sources— mythological, scientific, poetic, and Biblical—ranging from Altai to Zuñi.

Persichetti describes himself as a Judaic-Vedic-Christian, for whom all religious sources are suitable for musical interpretation. Yet when he is composing a work with particular sectarian associations, he totally assumes that spiritual outlook. His Mass, Op. 84, composed in 1960 for the Collegiate Chorale, may be viewed in this light. In many ways it is an orthodox a cappella Mass, its Renaissance heritage reflected in its use of a Gregorian chant as the unifying theme, and in its reliance on imitative counterpoint as its chief developmental technique. The Phrygian implications of the Gregorian theme give the work a generally dark color and the extensive use of quartal harmony produces a coolness of mood. A general tone of detached introspection is maintained until the final Agnus Dei, an ardent plea for peace.

The terse economy of means characteristic of haiku is compatible with Persichetti’s aesthetic. He was moved to compose his Winter Cantata, Op. 97, in 1964 after his daughter gave him a collection of haiku, A Net of Fireflies. (This collection also provided the words for his song cycle A Net of Fireflies, Op. 115.) Winter Cantata is scored for women’s chorus, flute, and marimba, and consists of twelve short movements. Without any overt musical references, the work is Japanese in spirit, largely as a result of its own delicate, highly concentrated gestures. The coolness of the flute and the brittleness of the marimba evoke the winter moods and images of the poems. The main unifying musical motifs are a chord based on the first five steps of the Phrygian mode, which appears at the outset of the work, and a minor-seventh arpeggiation, which increases in importance as the work proceeds. There are also subtle motivic links that connect each movement to the next. Within the overall unity of mood and subject matter there is great contrast and variety in gesture and articulation. The Epilogue, a compositional tour de force characteristic of Persichetti, consists of word groups and associated musical motifs drawn in sequence from all the preceding movements and woven into a coherent poetic and musical entity, an appropriate “index” to the entire work.

Persichetti composed Love, a setting for women’s voices of a portion of the Book of Corinthians, as a surprise for his wife Dorothea in celebration of their thirtieth wedding anniversary on June 3, 1971. On that day he presented her with the score and with a recording that had been prepared for the occasion under the direction of Tamara Brooks, who shares the work’s dedication. An interesting musical feature of this short piece is the use of the tritone—traditionally associated with discord and discontent—as a basic concord or tonic structure.

WALTER SIMMONS is a musicologist and critic who specializes in contemporary music. He is a contributor to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and many other publications, director of music projects for Educational Audio Visual, Inc., and a faculty member of the Thomas J.Watson Research Center (IBM)

This recording was originally released on LP as NW 316.


By Persichetti

Essay on his Hymns and Responses for the Church Year in R. S Hines, ed.: The Composer’s Point of View: Essays on Twentieth-Century Choral Music by Those Who Wrote It. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963, P. 41.
Essay on his orchestral works in R S Hines ed The Orchestral Composer’s Point of View: Essays on Twentieth-Century Music by Those Who Wrote It. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970, P. 166
Twentieth Century Harmony.New York: Norton, 1961.
With F R. Sebreiber.William Schuman.New York: Schirmer 1954.

About Persichetti

Evett, Robert. “The Music of Vincent Persichetti,“Juilliard Review, Spring 1955, P. 15
Rubin, D. M. “Vincent Persichetti,” ASCAP in Action, Spring 1980, P. 8.
Schuman, William. “The Complete Musician,” Musical Quarterly, July 1961, P. 379.
Shackelford, R.: “Conversation with Vincent Persichetti,” Perspectives of New Music, January 1983.
Simmons,Walter.“A Persichetti Perspective,” American Record Guide, May 1977 P. 6.
___. Review of Persichetti’s Harmonium and Piano Quintet, Fanfare, Nov.-Dec 1981, P. 217.
___. Review of Russian recording of Persichetti piano music, Fanfare, Jan.-Feb. 1983, P. 226.
___. Review of two Persichetti concertos, Fanfare, Sept.-Oct. 1980, P. 178.
Weisgall, Hugo. Review of Persichetti’s Stabat Mater, Musical Quarterly, July 1964, P. 379.
See also Persichetti brochure (containing complete list of works) published by Theodore Presser Company, Bryn Mawr, PA. 19010.


Bagatelles, Op 87 Masquerade, Op 102 Psalm, Op. 53. Serenade No 11, Op. 85. So Pure the Star, Op. 91. Symphony No 6, Op 69. Ohio State University Concert Band, Persichetti conducting Coronet S-1247.
Bagatelles, Op 87. O Cool Is the Valley, Op 118 Parable IX, Op 121 Serenade No 1, Op 1 So Pure the Star, Op 91 Turn Not Thy Face, Op. 105 University of Kansas Symphonic Band, Foster conducting Golden Crest ATH-5055.
Concerto for Piano, Four Hands, Op. 56.Vincent and Dorothea Persichetti, piano CBS ML-4989.
Concerto for Piano, Four Hands, Op. 56. Piano Sonata No. 9, Op 58. Sonata for Two Pianos, Op 13. Alexander Bakhchiev and Elena Sorokina, pianos Melodiya C10-16133-4.
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 90. Robert Taub, piano; The Philadelphia Orchestra, Chades Dutoit conducting. Symphony No. 5, Op 61 (for strings), The Philadelphia Orchestra, Riccardo Muti conducting New World 80370-2.
Four Cummings Choruses, Op 98 Parable IX, Op 121. Symphony No 6, Op 69. (excerpts) Te Deum, Op. 93. Chorus, band, and orchestra of Tennessee Tech University; Chancellor, Persichetti, Pegram,Wattenbarger conducting. USC Sound Enterprises KM-1558.
Harmonium, Op. 50. Darleen Kltewer, soprano; Lois McLeod, piano. Piano Quintet, Op 66.New Art String Quartet; Persichetti, piano Arizona State University JMP-102679.
Night Dances. Op 114.The Juilliard Orchestra, James DePreist conducting New World 80396-2.
Pageant, Op 59.The Northwestern University Symphonic Wind Ensemble, Paynter conducting New World 80211-2.
Quartets Nos. 1-4, Op. 7, 24, 81, 122 New Art String Quartet. Arizona State University 1976-ARA.
Serenade No 10, Op. 79. Louise DiTullio, flute; Susan McDonald, harp Klavier KS-560.
Sonata for Cello Solo, Op. 54. David Moore, cello. Opus One 6. 
Symphony No 5, Op. 61 (for strings). Louisville Orchestra, Robert Whitney conducting Louisville LOU-5457.
Symphony No 6, Op. 69 (for band). Eastman Symphonic Wind Ensemble, Frederick Fennell conducting Mercury SRI-75094.
Symphony No 8, Op. 106. Louisville Orchestra, Jorge Mester conducting. Louisville LS-706.
Symphony No 9, Janiculum, Op. 113. The Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting. RCA LSC-3212.

Winter Cantata (Cantata No.2)

(Text Material from NET OF FIREFLIES, translated by Harold Stewart, reprinted by special permission from the Charles E. Tuttle Co, Inc. of Rutland, Vermont, and Tokyo, Japan.)

1 A Copper Pheasant

A copper pheasant wakes with shrill-edged cry:
The silver crescent cuts the chilly sky.

2 Winter’s First Drizzle

Winter’s first drizzle falls,
The air is raw,
That shivering monkey needs a cape of straw.

3 Winter Seclusion

Winter seclusion:
on the window pane,
The silver fern of frost has grown again

4 The Woodcutter

Within the wintry grove,
my axe-head fell
And bit the bark how
startling was its smell!

5 Gentlest Fall of Snow

Ah! the first,
the gentlest fall of snow:
Enough to make the jonquil leaves bend low.

6 One Umbrella

One umbrella,
as snowy dusk draws on,
Has come;
one umbrella has come,
and passes by;
and now is gone

7 Of Crimson Ice

The rime has frozen overnight
to gems of crimson ice along the buckwheat sterns.

8 The Branch is Black

The branch is black and bare again;
a crow shook down its coverlet of powdered snow.

9 Fallen Leaves

The winter’s fitful gusts, as they expire,
Bring enough fallen leaves to build a fire.

10 So Deep

So deep, the heavy snow since yesterday,
Its drifts remain
Sweep, sweep as you may.

11 The Wind’s Whetstone

Through jagged cedars rips the winter blast,
honed cragged ledges as it passed.

12 Epilogue

A copper pheasant…
winter’s drizzle falls…
within the wintry grove…
Ah! the first, the gentlest fall of snow…
one umbrella…
the rime has frozen…
a crow shook down its coverlet to build a fire …
so deep…
through jagged cedars…
as it passed.


13 Kyrie

Kyrie eleison
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison

14 Gloria

Gloria in excelsis Deo,
Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.
Laudamus te.
Benedicimus te.
Adoramus te. Glorificamus te.
Gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam
Domine Deus.
Rex coelestis,
Deus Pater omnipotens.
Domine Fili unigenite
Jesu Christe.
Domine Deus,Agnus Dei, Filius Patris.
Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Qui touts peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram.
Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis.
Quoniam tu solos sanctus
Tuo solus Dominus
Tu solus Altissimus, Jesu Christe.
Cum Sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris. Amen.

15 Credo

Credo in unum Deum,
Patrem omnipotentem, factorem coeli et terrae,
visibilium omnium et invisibilium.
Et in unum Dominum jesum Christum Filium Dei
unigenitum et ex.
Patre natum ante omnia saecula, Deum de Deo
lumen de lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero.
Genitum, non factum,
consubsuntialem Patri: per quem omnia facta sunt.
Qui propter nos homines,
et propter nostram salutem descendit de coelis.
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine:
Et homo factus est.
Crucifixus etiam pro nobis:
sub Pontio Pilato passus, et sepultus est.
Et resurrexit tertia die secundum Scripturas et ascendit, in coelum:
sedet ad dexteram Patris,
Et iterum
venturus est cum gloria judicare vivos et mortuos:
cujus regni non erit finis.
Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum, et vivificantem:
qui ex Patre Filioque procedit
Qui cum Patre et Filis simul adoratur,
et conglorificatur:
qui locutus est per Prophetas.
Et unam, sanctam, catholicam, et apostolicam Ecclesiam.
Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum.
Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum.
Et vitam venturi saeculi.

16 Sanctus

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,
Dominus Deus Sabaoth
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna, in excelsis
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis

17 Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei,
qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei,
qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei,
qui tollis peccata mundi,
dona nobis pacem


love is patient,
love is kind,
love is not boastful;
love is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way.
Love is not irritable, resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrong,
but love rejoices in the right.
Love bears all things,
love believes,
love hopes,
love endures all things.
Love never ends.
(from I Corinthians:18,4-8)

PERSICHETTI: Concerto for Piano, Four Hands. Piano Sonata No. 9. Sonata for Two Pianos. MENNIN: Symphony No. 7. BARBER: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.

PERSICHETTI: Concerto for Piano, Four Hands. Piano Sonata No. 9. Sonata for Two Piano. Alexander Bakhchiev, Elena Sorokina, pianos. MELODIYA C10161334.

MENNIN: Symphony No. 7. BARBER: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.Leonid Kogan, violin; Ukrainian SSR Symphony Orchestra conducted by Pavel Kogan. MELODIYA C10164478.

That’s right, folks. The Russians have discovered American music: two records containing some of the best this country has to offer—on Melodiya! And, while, in fact, all five of these works are currently. available on American recordings, only the Barber concerto could be considered “familiar” to most music lovers. Thus, Americans can be rather impressed—if not a little shamed—by this bold, ambitious venture into a repertoire that has until now been known only to a very limited audience.

Among the many exciting aspects of these recordings is the opportunity of hearing this music performed by artists nurtured in a very different musical culture. Some of the pieces fare better than others. For example, the Barber violin concerto offers a rather international style of melodic beauty quite susceptible to the conventional, straightforward approach that might be taken by any competent violinist—certainly one of the reasons that the work has won and retained such popularity. Leonid Kogan digs in with ardent warmth. His tone is rich and smooth; were it not for several moments of sagging pitch during the first movement, the performance could be recommended without reservation. The gorgeous second movement is played as well as or better than I’ve ever heard. (The third movement is such a ridiculous incongruity that no performer can save it.) The orchestra accompanies competently and with wholehearted enthusiasm. Of course, the Stem/Bemstein performance is superb, and the Kaufman/Goehr is also; but this Kogan/Kogan rendition is in their class, and its modern recorded sound—close but rich—is an advantage.

That the Russian performance of the Barber concerto is so good is not really surprising. That their performance of the Mennin Symphony No. 7 is—that’s something else again. The work, which I would not hesitate to rank among the ten greatest American symphonies, is a formidable challenge to the precision, the musicianship—and the physical and intellectual endurance—of both conductor and orchestra. It is a work appropriate to the abilities of the partnership that commissioned and premiered it in 1963-64: George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra—and of the partnership that later recorded it as well: Jean Martinon and the Chicago Symphony. The Chicago recording is one of the most impressive accomplishments in the discography of American music. So I must confess to having put this Ukrainian disc on the turntable with a patronizing chuckle. The fact is that the performance is nothing to laugh about. True, there are missed notes (both the Mennin and Barber are taken from live performances (coughs, applause, and all), and the ensemble is a little ragged. But this group attacks the music with such intense conviction that the cataclysmic spirit of the work comes through full force, while the coarseness of the ensemble almost enhances the ruggedness of the music. Much credit for this must be attributed to the penetrating musicianship of Pavel Kogan (son of Leonid?).

The Mennin Seventh belongs to that select group of works that leave the listener feeling that, within its particular aesthetic category, the experience of hearing it cannot possibly be topped. Another work that leaves this impression is Vincent Persichetti’s Concerto for Piano, Four Hands—though its own message is very different. While each speaks through the language of pure music, the Mennin is a Beethovenian, public raging-fist-shaking-at-the-heavens type of statement, whereas the Persichetti is an intimate Mozartean romp of intellectual delight. Both are multisectional works, each integrated into one large movement, but Mennin’s gaze has a broad sweep, while Persichetti stops often for spontaneous moments of parenthetical interest. Part of the concerto’s magic lies in the way these little digressions ultimately cohere as part of the large design. Mennin and Persichetti are often grouped together as composers, but these two works, which represent each at his very best and most characteristic, clearly demonstrate how vastly different indeed are their modes of expression.

Persichetti is often at his most profound in music of high spirits—even of mischievous humor. This all-important insight seems to have eluded pianists Alexander Bakhchiev and Elena Sorokina, who misread much of the spirit of this music, while demonstrating competent pianism and evidence of good hard work. One wonders whether, during their well-intentioned preparation of this disc, the pianists had the opportunity to refer to the venerable recording of the concerto featuring the composer and his wife in what must be regarded as the definitive interpretation of this work. Bakhchiev and Sorokina open with a severe portentousness that soon becomes ponderous. Not only does this destroy the playfulness so essential to the meaning of the concerto, but it extends the length of the entire work some thirty percent beyond the composer’s intended duration, throwing relationships of tempo and structure out of kilter. Once the piece goes further along, however, the duo becomes better attuned to its momentum, and their superlative technical control enables them to highlight some details that even the virtuoso Persichetti performance misses. In all, the Russians approach the piece with such seriousness of purpose and pianistic mastery that the result is rather interesting in its way, despite the misjudgments (and much better, I might add, than the Wentworth performance, currently available on Grenadilla). But the element of spunk, manifested by a springy sort of rhythmic bounce, seems outside the Russian duo’s expressive vocabulary.

It is this trait that is also missing from Bakhchiev’s performance of Persichetti’s Piano Sonata No. 9. Of Persichetti’s twelve piano sonatas, notable for their exhaustive traversal of the full range of contemporary piano technique, the Ninth is one of the most immediately appealing. Composed during the 1950s–a fertile decade for Persichetti, when he produced the Concerto for Piano, Four Hands and literally dozens of other important works—the Ninth Sonata is a delightful essay in the sort of musical stream-of-consciousness pioneered by Roy Harris. But Persichetti carries it off with a wit and sparkle foreign to the elder composer. In its mere ten minutes or so, the sonata charts a dynamic course, suggesting a range of moods from whimsical to naughty to triumphant. American pianist Jackson Berkey has recorded the work on a remarkable direct-to-disc recital album. His rendition offers in abundance the very qualities missing from Bakhchiev’s performance, which is fluent, competent, but too reserved and a little stiff.

Of the three pieces, it is perhaps the early Sonata for Two Pianos, a somewhat less impressive work than its companions, that is accorded the best performance here. Interestingly, while Persichetti is often profound without being turgid, he is on occasion turgid without being profound. This is particularly true in his earliest pieces, when he often employed a harmonic language inappropriately harsh in relation to the musical import. This 1940 sonata must be included among those works. Yet its craggier textures and grander gestures seem better suited to the Russian duo, who manage to imbue the work with a good deal of sensitivity and vitality, highlighting its parodistic quality. Their performance compares favorably with Yarbrough and Cowan’s rendition on CRI.

Recorded sound of both discs is quite good; surfaces are adequate. I look forward to further Russian forays into the world of American music. Maybe some other countries would like to join in too. A fantasy-list of new releases begins to appear before my eyes…