PERSICHETTI: Parable XXIII (Piano Trio). Masquerade. King Lear Septet. COWELL: Trio in Nine Short Movements. REALE: Trio No. 2, “Drowsy Maggie.” GILLINGHAM: Serenade, “Songs of the Night”. SAPIEYEVSKY: Mercury Concerto

PERSICHETTI: Parable XXIII (Piano Trio). COVELL: Trio in Nine Short Movements.REALE: Trio No. 2, “Drowsey Maggie”. Mirecourt Trio. MUSIC & ARTS CD-686 [DDD]; 64:06. (Available from Music & Arts, P.O. Box 771, Berkeley, CA 94701)

PERSICHETTI: Masquerade. GILLINGHAM: Serenade, “Songs of the Night”. GILMORE: Five Folksongs. ZAPPA: Envelopes; Dog Breath Variations. SCHMITT: Dionysiaques. Barbara Pare. soprano; Eugene Corporon conducting the Cincinnati College Conservatory Wind Symphony. MARK MCD-1116 [DDD?].; 70:25. (Distributed by Albany Music Group)

PERSICHETTI: King Lear Septet. VILLA-LOBOS: Choros No. 7. KRENEK: Capriccio for Cello and Orchestra. SAPIEYEVSKI: Mercury Concerto. L. MOSS: Symphonies for Brass Quintet and Chamber Orchestra; Clouds. Albemarle Ensemble; Evelyn Elsing, cello; Armando Ghitalla, trumpet; Annapolis Brass Quintet; John Stephens conducting the American Camerata AMCAM ACR-10305CD IDDD?]; 75:09. Produced by Steven Benson. (Available from AmCam Recordings, Inc., P.O. Box 1502, Wheaton, MD 20915) or (Distributed by Albany Music Group)

Here are three worthwhile 20th-century miscellanies, each distinguished by the presence of an import work by Vincent Persichetti representing a different stage in his creative evolution.  The King Lear Septet dates from  the late 1940s, Masquerade from the mid-60s, and Parable XXIII from the early 80s.  Persichetti’s output does not fall into stylistically. distinct chronological categories — works vary more within periods than between periods — but, understandably, there are discernable differences at successive stages of development. As precocious as he was (his official opus 1 appeared at age 14), Persichetti did not, I believe, achieve full compositional maturity until his mid-thirties, by which time he had already completed a substantial portion of his output. Most of his earlier works lack an authentic, fully formed personal voice, cultivating the recognizable turf of Stravinsky or other influential figures, such as Copland, Harris, and Bartok, although his astounding technical mastery often surpassed theirs.

Persichetti produced many such works during the 1940s — a period of consolidation for him — some of them quite ambitious.  One of these is the King Lear Septet, written in 1948 for Martha Graham, and used by her for a choreographic work called The Eye of Anguish.   It is scored for woodwind quintet with piano and timpani, and is a grim, knotty, effort in a Stravinskian neoclassical vein. Probably his most serious work from this period, it is quite demanding for the listener, but, as is usually the case with Persichetti, repays repeated, focused attention. My only complaint is that the title raises expectations that are not fulfilled: there is nothing in the music that evokes the tone or spirit of Shakespeare’s great tragedy, or that suggests the emotion of anguish — a feeling that is generally absent from Persichetti’s music and perhaps from his temperament as well. A certain aggressiveness of attitude represents its only inclination in such a direction. Persichetti’s compositional approach is generally abstract; extramusical references — even to the spectrum of human emotions — rarely play a role, making the concept of this work somewhat uncharacteristic, although the music itself is not   The performance by the Virginia-based Albemarle Ensemble is appropriately tight, clean, and incisive, although the very important harmonic and contrapuntal role of the piano is somewhat buried by improper recording balance.Masquerade is one of the widely played and beloved pieces Persichetti wrote for symphonic wind ensemble. Eleven minutes in duration, it is a brilliant, kaleidoscopically unfolding set of variations on material that originally appeared in a didactic setting in his text, Twentieth Century Harmony. Composed in 1966, Masquerade is more dissonant and less clearly tonal than such band works from the 50s as PsalmPageant, and the Symphony No. 6. Nevertheless, its cool, light tone and exuberant rhythms produce a genial, exhilarating effect that masks its intricate (and fascinating) structure. The performance by the Cincinnati Conservatory Wind Symphony is excellent.

Persichetti began his set of Parables in 1965, completing 25 of them by the time of his death in 1987. He was typically evasive about them, stating only that they are “non-programmatic musical essays about a single germinal idea. They convey a meaning indirectly by the use of comparison or analogies.”  Most are short pieces for unaccompanied solo instrument — oboe, bassoon, guitar, harp, tuba, etc.– but some are on a larger scale. Many are based on thematic ideas borrowed from earlier compositions. For example, Persichetti’s largest effort, his opera The Sibyl (a bitterly pessimistic work based on the story of Chicken Little), is also identified as Parable XX and is based almost entirely on material taken from his easy piano pieces.

Parable XXIII, a 23-minute work for piano trio, dates from 1981, when Persichetti was devoting most of his attention to writing for the harpsichord; I don’t recognize its germinal four-note motif from any previous piece. The one-movement trio is one of the most elaborate and ambitious works from Persichetti’s final years, and exemplifies the sort of comprehensive integration of a broadly-based compositional technique that comprised his artistic manifesto. It is a densely textured, highly contrapuntal work that makes a rather severe surface impression, although its passion and poetry emerge ever more clearly with attentive, repeated listening. Mind you, I am no advocate of masochistic listening: there is enough great unfamiliar music around that offers at least some rewards to the listener right away, so that there is no need to endure music that simply doesn’t gratify. But even with Persichetti’s most forbidding works one can immediately sense the coherence and the authentic musicality that pervade the proceedings. And because of the richness, concentration, and subtlety of construction, each hearing whets one’s appetite for another, and one’s appreciation grows deeper and deeper. Abstract and self-contained, this is musical composition of the highest order, offering the depth o£ gratification provided by the art form’s greatest masterpieces. 

During the past 10-15 years, violinist Kenneth Goldsmith, cellist Terry King, and pianist John Jensen have been compiling quite an impressive discography, both as individuals and as the Mirecourt Trio — and on several different labels. Their efforts have been characterized by a dedication to the highest standards of performance, to unearthing lesser-known works, and to increasing the piano trio repertoire by inviting important composers to investigate the medium. This dedication, pursued aggressively and discriminatingly, has made them what is probably today’s preeminent piano trio. This new Music & Arts recording offers ample evidence of that claim. 

The other two pieces on the disc have their virtues, but serve mainly to highlight the extraordinary quality of the Persichetti work. Paul Reale is a 50-year-old composer based in California whom the Mirecourt Trio has championed. His Trio No 2 is a recent composition that uses the Irish tune “Drowsy Maggie” as a deep-level unifying device, somewhat in the manner of a cantus firmus. This is an interesting concept that facilitates the absorption of the work by the listener, although there is some incongruity between the freshness and simplicity of the tune (presented fully only in the finale) and the complexity and astringency of the treatment. Reale seems to be searching for a way of rejuvenating and individualizing an approach based on solid, traditional craftsmanship, and he succeeds with a work that is neither patronizingly obvious nor inscrutably austere

Henry Cowell’s Trio in Nine Short Movements is his last. completed work, and it exemplifies the composer’s brand of good-natured experimental whimsey. As with most of non-neo-colonial-American music, the piece is a mechanical, intentionally inexpressive execution of some quirky, rather simplistic compositional devices. Though based on shared melodic and rhythmic materials, the brief movements follow one another with no apparent sense of an overall formal shape or direction.  In a way, the pieces by both Cowell and Reale display a sort of search for novelty in a syntactical medium that may seem to some to have been exhausted, while Persichetti’s trio demonstrates how no language is ever exhausted as long as one truly has something to say and the technical means to say it well.

I look forward to further releases from the Mirecourt Trio. The notes mention a commissioned work by Joly Braga Santos, a Portuguese composer whose previous efforts have attracted my attention. And American composer Robert Muczynski has written three fine piano trios as yet unexplored by these players, as far as I know.

The disc featuring the Cincinnati Conservatory Wind Symphony offers a varied program of mixed interest. Serenade, “Songs of the Night”, a recent work by Michigan-based David Gillingham (b. 1947), makes a very favorable impression. Its five movements evoke a variety of nocturnal moods through the use of a deliciously coloristic postmodern language. The two pieces by Frank Zappa (a one-time Persichetti student) date from the 1970s and exist in a number of different arrangements, all done by the composer himself. Neither eccentric nor nihilistic as one might expect, they are nicely constructed, deftly scored pieces exploring a richly colored late-20th-century mode of expression.

The Gilmore and Schmitt pieces are somewhat disappointing. California composer Bernard Gilmore has selected five folksongs of different nationalities, presenting them in innocuous, rather drawn-out arrangements for soprano and band. They are sung here by soprano Barbara Pare in a stiff, formal manner that conflicts with the casual informality o£ the material. Florent Schmitt’s Dionysiaques stands out as the only “old”, non-American piece on the program. Somewhat comparable in style to Dukas’ Sorcerer’s Apprentice, it reveals a rather tame, mundane vision of the Dionysian ideal.

The Cincinnati Conservatory Wind Symphony appears to be one of today’s most proficient bands, and they perform these works with precision and nuance. The recording quality, however, is a bit lacking in brilliance.

The generous serving of music on the American Camerata disc is generally more forbidding in style, and will probably appeal to a smaller group of listeners. Here the pleasant but not terribly interesting Villa-Lobos septet is the only “old” piece.   Lawrence Moss’s two efforts explore an all-too-familiar atonal idiom that is, however, handled sensitively and with attention to shape, color, and mood. Although the language is fairly severe, the actual content is mild and genial. The late Ernst Krenek’s Capriccio also approaches the serial idiom with some artistic sensitivity, but there isn’t much in this music to encourage delving more deeply into it. Polish-born Jerzy Sapieyevski’s Mercury Concerto is a 14-minute work for trumpet and wind ensemble. Though not falling into any obvious stylistic category, it is a fairly accessible work that makes an excellent vehicle for the solo instrument, played outstandingly here by veteran Armando Ghitalla.

The American Camerata appears to be based in Maryland, and seems to function as a source-group for a variety of chamber ensemble combinations. Their performances here maintain a very high level. However, potential purchasers of this recording should be warned that the tracks listed on the index do not correspond to the actual tracking of the disc. 

BARBER: Essay No. 1. Capricorn Concerto. COPLAND: Saga of the Prairies. HARRIS: Symphony No. 6, “Gettysburg”

BARBER: Essay No. 1. Capricorn Concerto. COPLAND: Saga of the Prairies. HARRIS:Symphony No. 6, “Gettysburg”. Louise DiTullio, flute; Allan Vogel, oboe; Anthony Plog, trumpet; Keith Clark conducting the Pacific Symphony Orchestra. ALBANY TROY-064 [DDD]; 68:24. Produced by Keith Clark, Tom Null, and Chris Kuchler.

This new CD features American music composed during the period 1937-44, in performances originally issued on an Andante LP about ten years ago.

As the American orchestral repertoire of the first half of this century undergoes a welcome reappraisal, some composers must inevitably be found wanting. Roy Harris is clearly one of these, notwithstanding the extravagant — virtually delusional — assertions of program-note writer and advocate Dan Stehman.  Harris’ Sixth Symphony, described by Stehman as “a summary of what Roy Harris was as a man and a composer,” was inspired by Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. In four movements, it attempts to evoke with fervent nobility a spirit of heroic affirmation — and, in truth, there are some poignant and effectively atmospheric passages toward the beginnings of the first and third movements, in particular. However, as is the case with most of Harris’ music, its expressive aspirations are thwarted by a plodding lack of rhythmic invention, and by harmonic motion so ineptly regulated as to seem without purpose or direction. Increased familiarity makes ever more clear the conclusion that Harris was a thoroughly mediocre talent whose work may safely be set aside in favor of music by other far more compelling figures.

Copland’s Saga of the Prairies has been identified variously as Music for Radio and Prairie Journal   (its   final   authorized title I believe; so why doesn’t this production use it?). The piece is a pleasant, highly episodic example of the composer’s popular “Western” mode. It is nice to have this little-known work available in a good, modern recording.

Barber’s Capricorn Concerto is probably his least characteristic work, virtually a wholesale adaptation of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella style, minus the Pergolesi melodies. Here is a fine performance of this inoffensive piece. The familiar and always lovely Essay No. 1, however, can be found in far more polished readings.

DYSON: Concerto da Chiesa. Concerto Leggiero. Concerto da Camera.

DYSON: Concerto da Chiesa. Concerto Leggiero. Concerto da Camera. Eric Parkin, piano; Richard Hickox conducting the City of London Sinfonia. CHANDOS CHAN-9076 [DDD]; 71:09 Produced by Tim Oldham.

Sir George Dyson lived from 1853 to 1964, making him an exact contemporary of Arnold Bax and a near-contemporary of John Ireland. He was a highly esteemed and active administrator, heading the Royal College of Music for 14 years. In his informative program notes, the usually perspicacious Christopher Palmer makes rather grand claims for Dyson as a major creative figure, but they fail to be substantiated by the works presented here. These were all composed during the years 1949-51, and are presumed to be making their first appearances on recording.

The most impressive of the three works is the Concerto da Chiesa, which juxtaposes a string quartet against a larger string group, in a concerto grosso format. It is the most English-sounding of the three, with a grave first movement that displays some strong emotional content. The rest of the work is more moderate in tone. The work calls to mind the ConcertoGrosso No. 2 of Ernest Bloch, a composition similar in concept, scope, duration, and date of composition. Dyson’s piece, however, is more ingratiating and genial in character.

The music offered here is smoothly crafted, warm and sweet with gentle gestures, rich impressionistic harmony, and a purposeful rhythmic flow. Occasionally one encounters melodic/harmonic turns of phrase surprisingly suggestive of Richard Strauss, but the expressive compass is much narrower.

Although the overall language is romantic/impressionistic, the regular patterns, emotional moderation, and abstract forms give a classical cast to the expression, as in the music of Fauré. But, unfortunately, Dyson’s phraseology lacks the piquancy of Fauré. In his notes, Palmer seems at pains to present Dyson as more than a minor composer, but that is really the most charitable characterization for him. This is pleasant music, but its emotional monotony is, for this listener, soporific

The performances are all highly polished.

BARBER: Symphony No. 1. Essays for Orchestra: No. 1; No. 2. Music for a Scene from Shelley. Overture to ‘The School for Scandal”. Adagio for Strings

BARBER: Symphony No. 1. Essays for Orchestra: No. 1; No. 2. Music for a Scene from Shelley. Overture to ‘The School for Scandal”. Adagio for Strings. David Zinman conducting the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. ARGO 436 288-2 [DDD]; 64:17. Produced by Chris Hazell.

This is the latest of several recent compilations featuring Samuel Barber’s early orchestral works — the pieces that brought him to prominence while still in his twenties, and secured his reputation as a major American compositional voice during the 1930s. Always exhibiting a dignified, refined sensibility, these pieces are essentially tone poems without programs, or, perhaps, hypothetical filmscores — successions of mood paintings and dramatic episodes. The emphasis is always on melody — usually bittersweet, mood — usually elegiac and emotion — warm but reserved, although each work is structured solidly and rationally enough to sustain coherency and interest throughout its brief duration. The lengthier Symphony No. 1 displays a greater formal rigor commensurate with its more ambitious aspirations.

Though to some extent redundant, each of the recent all-Barber orchestral compilations offers some reason to recommend it: the Slatkin/St. Louis disc (EMI CDC7-49463 2) offers the best recorded performance of the Essay No. 3; the Schenck/New Zealand disc (Stradivari SCD-8012) offers the once-suppressed Symphony No. 2; the Levi/Atlanta disc (Telarc CD-80250) provides the best sound quality and a lovely rendition of Knoxville: Summer of 1915.  This new Argo disc features dynamic, well-paced, tightly-shaped, and well-executed performances. However, its special claim is a stunning version of Music for A Scene from Shelley.   This 9-minute work from 1933, inspired by a passage from Prometheus Unbound, relies somewhat less on melody, and, perhaps because of that, is heard somewhat less often than its companion pieces. But it is a particularly haunting mood-painting, darkly gothic in tone.  Though its suitability for the Shelley passage might be questioned, it would be the ideal accompaniment for a film depicting some horrifying event set in an old castle in 19th-century England. The piece builds to a blood-curdling climax, which Zinman shapes for maximum impact, creating a more powerful statement than any previous recording of the work.

HOVHANESS: Symphony No. 4. GIANNINI: Symphony No. 3. GOULD: Symphony No. 4, ‘West Point`

HOVHANESS: Symphony No. 4. GIANNINI: Symphony No. 3. GOULD: Symphony No. 4, ‘West Point`. A. Clyde Roller and Frederick Fennell conducting the Eastman Wind Ensemble. MERCURY LIVING PRESENCE–434 320-2 [ADD); 64:52. Produced by Wilma Cosart Fine.

Here is the latest release in the extraordinary series of Mercury/Eastman reissues, featuring three major American wind symphonies from the 1950s — a Golden Age for art music composed expressly for band by American composers. The exemplary recordings made by the Eastman Wind Ensemble under its founder and conductor from 1952 to 1962, Frederick Fennell, were both a result of this significant activity and a stimulus for its further expansion.

Alan Hovhaness’ Symphony No. 4 (of a canon that now numbers about 70) is one of his most beloved and most widely played compositions. Actually, it is not truly a band work, as saxophones and other exclusively band instruments (e.g. baritone horn) are not used   Composed in 1958, the work resembles other pieces by Hovhaness dating from this period: reverent triadic chorales and exultant Handelian fugues alternate with long, modal melodies that feature extended solos for such instruments as bass clarinet and contrabassoon, accompanied by spacey bell-like effects from outside the tonality. Other striking instrumental usages include an almost frightening passage in which tromboneglissandi in opposite directions cross each other. Despite its similarity to other works by the composer, the Fourth Symphony makes a strong impact, partly owing to the stunning performance provided by the Eastman players (aside from an egregiously wrong French horn chord in the first movement) and partly because the work itself is unusually (for this composer) concise and well-balanced.

Vittorio Giannini’s Symphony No. 3 is actually the fifth of his seven in that form; two unnumbered symphonies precede No. 1. This work was also composed in 1958, but is aesthetically light-years away from the Hovhaness. (While Hovhaness was simulating “the bells in the thousand towers of the lost Armenian city of Ani,” Giannini wrote his piece “because I felt like it,” motivated only “by what I heard and felt at that time.”) The work is smoothly and skillfully wrought, but thoroughly conventional in layout and style, and rather pedestrian in expressive content. Only the heartfelt and wistful slow movement rises above the pleasant but ordinary remainder. Although many band musicians love the work, the symphony is an example of the sort of Gebrauchsmusik upon which Giannini concentrated during the 1950s.  Ironically, this portion of his output has been most widely heard and has colored his reputation for many listeners unaware of the fervor and passion of his operatic music or the searing intensity of his late works from the 1960s. In fact, a deeper and more artistically significant band work is the Variations and Fugue from this latter period, but it has never been recorded commercially.

Morton Gould composed his “West Point Symphony” in 1952 upon commission from the band of the United States Military Academy. Although permeated by military parade-like musical symbolism, the work is really quite abstract and subtly constructed, with an unusual and quite interesting formal layout and some really spectacular effects of scoring. However, as with most of Gould’s works, it is quite cold and impersonal — primarily a product of musical intellect and craftsmanship,

The performances hers maintain the breathtakingly high standards set by previous Eastman Wind Ensemble recordings. A. Clyde Roller, conductor of the Hovhaness and Giannini works, replaced Fennell in 1963, when the latter chose to pursue orchestral conducting for a time. Roller did not remain very long; this was his only recording with the group, and it was their last (made during his first year) to appear for some time The sound quality of these later recordings the Gould dates from 1959) just about reaches Mercury’s apex, and the CD transfers are glorious. This release is a must for all Eastman enthusiasts (as they no doubt already know), but will thrill many other listeners as well.

BARBER: String Quartet; Dover Beach; Serenade. COPLAND: Movement; Two Pieces. GERSHWIN: Lullaby

BARBER: String Quartet; Dover Beach; Serenade. COPLAND: Movement; Two Pieces.GERSHWIN: Lullaby. Alexander String Quartet; Nathaniel Watson, baritone. AMPLITUDE CLCD-2009 [DDD?]; 60:59. Produced by Foster Reed.

Here is an interesting assortment of music for string quartet, all written between 1919 and 1936 by three important American composers while they were between the ages of 18 and 28. The Barber works, of course, take up about two-thirds of the CD.  The Serenade is heard here in its original quartet version, rather than the more frequently heard string orchestra arrangement. Written in 1928, while Barber was an undergraduate at the Curtis Institute, it is notable for displaying at such a young age the refined, genteel sensibility so characteristic of the composer’s mature works. However, I have always found the musical content itself too tepid to be interesting.

Dover Beach, dating from age 21, is Barber’s first truly great work, a deeply moving setting that captures, interprets, personalizes the profoundly pessimistic sentiments of Matthew Arnold’s poem. Baritone Nathaniel Watson gives an excellent reading, but he is overwhelmed at times by the quartet, which seems a bit overbalanced in the recording. I remain especially fond of Barber’s own recording as baritone, done in 1935, four years after the piece was written (but not currently available on CD as far as I know). His intense, eloquent reading makes the experience of the work all the more intimate.

Barber’s String Quartet is really quite a strange work — thoroughly lyrical and subjective, with virtually no acknowledgement of the principles of Austro-Germanic classicism usually conceded to the genre, even by composers committed to a romantic aesthetic outlook. It is thus sui generis and one either accepts it on its own terms or not. Although its popularity as a quartet doesn’t rival that of its slow movement alone, the outer sections have a similarly poignant melodic appeal, and the work seems to be heard increasingly in its entirety. The Alexander Quartet, an American group in residence at San Francisco State University, provides a very solid performance, tight and edgy at the appropriate moments, but also generous and heartfelt when required.

The Copland pieces are interesting curiosities, but altogether peripheral to his output. What is called Movement is the remnant of an early (1922-23) quartet that was never completed. Few listeners would identify it as a work of Copland, as it displays a savagery more characteristic of Bloch or Bartok. Two Pieces were actually composed independently, in 1928 and 1923 respectively, and were brought together later on. The first is quite haunting, exhibiting the simple triadicism later associated with the composer, but the second piece is remarkably uninteresting. Again, the quartet provides very tight, solid performances.

Although Gershwin’s 1919 Lullaby wasn’t discovered until the 1960s, it certainly is heard frequently today. I suppose its dreamy quality is infectious, but it is awfully drawn out.

In summary, this Canadian disc is a worthwhile release for the interested listener.   I must, however, mention that in her program notes, the distinguished authority Vivian Perlis expresses the erroneous belief that Copland and Gershwin were born the same year.

BLOCH: Sacred Service. FOSS: The Song of Songs. BEN-HAIM: Sweet Psalmist of Israel.

BLOCH: Sacred Service. FOSS: The Song of Songs. BEN-HAIM: Sweet Psalmist of Israel. Robert Merrill, baritone (cantor); Jennie Tourel, mezzo-soprano; Leonard Bernstein conducting the Choirs of the Metropolitan Synagogue and the Community Church of New York and the New York Philharmonic. SONY SM2K 47533 [ADD]; two discs: 52:26, 53:59. Produced by John McClure, Howard H. Scott, David Oppenheim, Dennis D. Rooney.

This is a recent installment in the series of Bernstein reissues, featuring material from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, called by Sony classics, “The Royal Edition,” for no apparent reasonother than the use of seemingly irrelevant paintings by Prince Charles as cover illustrations. This volume is dubbed, “Music from the Jewish Tradition,” and presents recordings from the years 1958 through 1960.

Bloch’s Sacred Service (1930-33) is probably the greatest piece of Jewish liturgical music. It is a glorious work that weds the composer’s blazingly passionate orchestral style with a choral polyphony rooted in Renaissance practice, and with cantorial lines that range from the diatonically modal to more explicitly Hebraic melismas. The entirety is unified by a single melodic motif that permeates the fabric of the work.

Bernstein’s performance is the most notable to appear on recording, and is, in some — but not all — aspects, the best. Robert Merrill, singing in Hebrew, is excellent in the prominent role of the cantor, lending a vocal refinement often missing from performances by those who chiefly inhabit the more circumscribed world of cantorial singing. The choral and orchestral contributions are thoroughly polished and fervent as well. On the other hand, Bernstein’s phrasing illustrates his most taffy-pulling tendencies, with constant rubati in choral passages that are profoundly moving on their own, without any need for such distortion and distension. Quite controversial also is the rendering of several recitative passages — distinctly notated — in a spoken, rather than sung, manner. In clear disregard of the composer’s intentions, this rendering reduces the aesthetic universal appeal of the work considerably, with no explanation or justification provided. What is especially unfortunate is that the auspiciousness of this recording set a precedent that has been followed in a number of subsequent performances I have heard. In conclusion, this is certainly a rendition that admirers of theSacred Service cannot ignore, but it cannot be regarded as definitive.

The other current recording of the Sacred Service dates from 1978, and is led by Geoffrey Simon (Chandos CHAN-8418), with baritone Louis Berkman, the Zemel Choir and the London Symphony Orchestra. This performance is fine, though less polished than the Bernstein in every respect. However, it is a more straightforward interpretation, and follows the composer’s directions with regard to the aforementioned recitatives.

An overview of Lukas Foss’ career shows him to be one of the century’s most successful bandwagon jumpers, whose artistic development seems chiefly to have been a matter of going where the action is. On the other hand, no one can deny the man’s extraordinary musical talent, or his ability to package his products with considerable surface appeal. Song of Sonqs is quite an early work, written when Foss was 24, with a text from the Song of Solomon.   At the same age and at the same place — Tanglewood — Foss’ similarly facile long-time friend and colleague Bernstein wrote his “Jeremiah” Symphony”, making for an apt and illuminating comparison that I won’t dwell on here.) Song of Songs is really quite irresistible, with an infectious, lightly fluent lyricism and a refreshing sort of neo-Baroque coolness of sonority. Of course, the work’s considerable appeal is undeniably second-hand and referential, with nods to Stravinsky, primarily, but this won’t bother most people. The rendition is extraordinary: Jennie Tourel makes a stunning contribution, the orchestra is at its best, and Bernstein — also at his best in this kind of music — leads a performance that must be called definitive.

Also attractive is Sweet Psalmist of Israel, by Ben-Haim 1897-1964), considered to be one of the major works of the leading member of the older generation of Israeli composers The work was written in 1952-53, to commemorate King David’s conquest of Jerusalem, and each of its three movements is based on a relevant biblical quotation. The scoring is rather unusual, the first movement featuring winds and harpsichord, the second, strings and harp, and the third, everyone. The element of sonority is prominent in the work and contributes to its appeal while the central movement, in particular, has moments of considerable beauty. However, the combination of neoclassical detachment and middle-Eastern folk elements produces an artificial, unfocused result, so that the work’s fervent and grandiose conclusion doesn’t seem justified as an authentic culmination. The performance, featuring harpsichordist Sylvia Marlowe and harpist Christine Stavrache, is excellent.

HOVHANESS: Piano Music.

HOVHANESS: Piano Music. Marvin Rosen, piano. KOCH INTERNATIONAL CLASSICS 3-7195-2H1 DDDI; 71:21. Produced by Marvin Rosen.

Dance Ghazal (1937). Slumber Song 1938). Macedonian Mountain Dance 1938).Mountain Dance No. 2 (1941). Achtamar (1948). Fantasy on an Ossetin Tune (1952).Orbit No. 2 (1952). Sonata Mt. Ossipee 1977). Sonata Fred the Cat 1977). Sonata Prospect Hill (1980 . Sonata Mt. Chocorua (1982)

HOVHANESS: Piano Music. Wayne Johnson, piano. CRYSTAL CD813 [DDD]; 66:32. Produced by Kearney Barton.

Mystic Flute (1937). Dance Ghazal 1937). Macedonian Mountain Dance (1938) Mountain Dance No. 2 (1941). Fantasy (1952). Sonata Ananda (1977). Love Song Vanishing into Sounds of Crickets (1979). Blue Job Mountain Sonata (1986).

“The first time I heard Hovhaness’s music was on the radio. As soon as it began, I stopped what I was doing and listened, not having any idea who wrote it. This was truly the most beautiful piece that I had ever heard in my life. Hearing his music…was for me a profoundly moving, even spiritual experience.”  This is how pianist Marvin Rosen recounts his discovery of the music of Alan Hovhaness. It is interesting to me that his exact words describe my own discovery of Hovhaness. Over the years I have met a surprising number of musicians and listeners who report the same sort of conversion experience around Hovhaness’ music — usually during their early teens.  I was 13 at the time; I wonder how old Rosen was. For me, Hovhaness revealed realms of musical experience I had never imagined: direct access to an ecstatic spiritual state where no music had ever led me. I realized that the emotional experience of concert music was not limited to the conventional platitudes and pieties represented by classical tonality and its finite canon of masterpieces; I realized that great music was still alive and being created right now by living people. 1n these ways Hovhaness’ music changed my life forever. So when the program notes state, “The music of Alan Hovhaness has influenced every aspect of pianist Marvin Rosen’s life,” I think I know what that means.

Because of Hovhaness’ importance to me during my formative years, I have always retained a great affection for his music, and I suppose I always will. However, I see the early attraction to Hovhaness from different perspectives as well: the simplicity and directness of his music makes it immediately accessible to an inexperienced listener and a natural point for a radical departure from conventional musical expression. Also, I had never heard the music of Josquin, for example, or middle-Eastern or Indian traditional music, or other 20th-century styles — music that might have reduced the impression of utter novelty in Hovhaness’ work. As the years went by, my devotion to Hovhaness weakened and became tinged with cynicism: I discovered other music that revealed profound spiritual realms, some more profound than Hovhaness; I realized that many of his compositions recycled the same material over and over, and that when it wasn’t identical material, it was so similar that it might just as well have been identical; I grew to discover that their simplicity of structure caused once-beloved pieces to pall after a while; I admitted that much of it was just plain boring — especially the music he composed after about 1970. I don’t know how many other youthful Hovhanessians became similarly disenchanted, but I have met some.

So, today I :Listen to Hovhaness’ music with a mixture of nostalgia and embarrassment, affection and impatience, approaching a new recording with the hope that some of it will ignite a sense of excitement — which brings us to the two CDs at hand. First, however, I should remind the reader that there is a previous all-Hovhaness piano CD: Hearts of SpaceHS11O24-2, featuring pianist Sahan Arzruni (see Fanfare 15:1, p. 241).  That one is probably better, on balance, than either of these, from the standpoint of musical and performance quality. I have listed the complete programs — with composition dates — of these new CDs, so that the reader can see the way the programs are distributed with regard to compositional periods, which can be quie revealing with Hovhaness, and also that there is some slight overlap between the two programs.

Basically, each disc consists of some short early pieces and some lengthier pieces of more recent vintage. It should be stated here that although he has composed reams of it, piano music does not represent Hovhaness` most inspired work. Although there are exceptions, most of it is pretty poor, sounding like the kind of pseudo-exotic trifles that turn up at children’s piano recitals. In fact, much of this music is capable of being played by beginning pianists, although Mystic Flute is said to have been used as an encore by Rachmaninoff. Of the shorter pieces, Achtamar and Orbit No. 2 show same real sparks of originality and inspiration.   (Incidentally, Sonata Fred the Cat was commissioned by radio personality and former Fanfare columnist Jurgen Goths, on behalf of his recently departed pet.) The later pieces use essentially the same devices as the earlier pieces — modal and/or pentatonic melodies, often in a 7/4 rhythmic pattern that fits the syllables Al-an Hov-ha-ness, imitation-dulcimer effects, the familiar “jhala”-style, simple polyphony — but in some cases drawn out to much greater length. The chief musical innovation in the later pieces is the use of half-diminished seventh-chords, treated in a nontonal manner. One has the impression that Hovhaness exuded this music, like a biological product, rather than composing it: there is little sense of conscious intervention; the pieces are generally interchangeable in effect; titles seem chosen simply as means of identification; three of the shorter pieces might just as easily be one longer piece, or vice versa. There is very little to this music that cannot be grasped in a single hearing.

Here are some exceptions to the generalizations above: the nearly half-hour Sonata Mt. Chocorua resembles Hovhaness’ recent symphonies more than his other piano pieces. In fact, it sounds like a piano reduction of an orchestral work, with full block-chord passages that are rather ineffective on the piano. Blue Job Mountain Sonata is probably the most musically interesting of the six pieces labeled sonatas on these discs, with some uncharacteristic figurations and some harmonic exploration. Probably the most interesting piece of all is the 20-minute Fantasy. This is a sort of apotheosis of Hovhaness’ piano music from the late 1940s and early 50s, a kind of abstraction and summation of the various techniques he developed during this period to transform the piano into a giant middle-Eastern zither. If one attempts to cull the works of more enduring value from all this music that is so similar in effect, the Fantasy  and Blue Job Mountain Sonata, along with the shorter Achtamar, would be the likely choices.

From the standpoint of piano performance, I would have to give the edge to Wayne Johnson, whose playing is a bit more polished. Crystal’s sonic ambience is more appealing as well. Rosen’s playing seems restricted to an awfully narrow dynamic range and is expressively restrained as well, contributing to a very monotonous effect. In view of Johnson’s somewhat more interesting selection of pieces, I would recommend the Crystal to the collector who wants to choose only one of these two new releases.

BLOCH: Concerto Grosso No. 1. Concerto Grosso No. 2. Four Episodes for Chamber Orchestra. Concertino for Flute, Viola, Strings.

BLOCH: Concerto Grosso No. 1. Concerto Grosso No. 2. Four Episodes for Chamber Orchestra. Concertino for Flute, Viola, Strings. Agnieszka Duczmal conducting the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra; Barton Weber, piano; Michael Martin Kofler flute; Helmut Nicolai, viola. CPO 999 096-2 [DDD]; 71:51. Produced by Wilhelm Meister.

Here is a disc for listeners who wish Ernest Bloch didn’t always have to get so heated up about things. The Amadeus Chamber Orchestra plays the two wonderful concerto grossos with a metrical regularity and in emotional restraint that emphasizes their Baroque affinities at the expense of their romantic expressive cores. Compared with the robust vigor of the Hanson/Eastman performances (Mercury 432 718-2; see Fanfare 15: 274), these readings are positively anemic   Yet the Polish ensemble plays with such tight discipline and smooth refinement that their efforts cannot be simply dismissed out of hand. 

The other two pieces are extremely minor works of Bloch.  Four Episodes are a pleasantly varied, colorful, and motivically unified set of mood paintings, of the sort that Bloch frequently produced throughout his life.   This group, composed in 1926 during the fertile Cleveland years, is somewhat lighter in tone than his norm. They have been recorded several times before, but this rich, smoothly flowing performance makes the strongest case that I have yet heard.

The Concertino for flute, viola, and strings is a first recording, I believe. Comprising three short movements, it was composed in 1948 and is a very sweetly modal neo-Baroque diversion, the sort of music FM radio programmers seem to love. It’s not a bad piece, but we are talking about very minor Bloch with an unexpected polka at the end for laughs — but it makes me cringe. Again, the performance is neat and smooth.

There we have it, some substantial Bloch in unidiomatic interpretations, played very well, and some very insignificant Bloch in excellent performances. An additional irritant is the annotation by Andreas K. W. Meyer, which contains erroneous and misleading nonsense about Bloch’s stylistic evolution.

COPLAND: Piano Fantasy; Four Piano Blues. REALE: Piano Sonata No. 1; No. 2, “Dance Sonata”.

COPLAND: Piano Fantasy; Four Piano Blues. REALE: Piano Sonata No. 1; No. 2, “Dance Sonata”. John Jenson, piano. MUSIC & ARTS CD-738 [DDD]; 75:42. Produced by Peter Nothnagle. 

Paul Reale is a student of George Rochberg, now 50 years old and on the faculty at UCLA. His thoughtful and provocative essay, “The Crisis of Modernism, or Why don’t I like what’s Good for Me?” comprises the program notes for this recording. Thus Reale’s music, the Copland works, and Reale’s comments on them, are all part of a conceptual framework concerning the 20th-century composer’s search for relevance. I could easily turn this review into a discussion of Reale’s essay, but will try to resist the temptation to go too far afield. His theme is that “the primary aesthetic concern of most artists working today [is] IS my work relevant? Is it MODERN?” and that this quest has resulted in a “disastrous set of aesthetic consequences,” by which Reale seems to mean the wholesale renunciation of traditional musical principles in the face of endless shallow attempts to create an impression of novelty. He discusses Copland’s Piano Fantasy as an attempt to appear up-to-date in its use of serial principles and his own work as the result of efforts to create music that is relevant to its time but also meaningful to the listener. Yet the Copland Fantasy, which he describes as, “without question, the greatest of Copland’s piano works, and one of the grandest conceptions in American piano music,” seems to be something of a refutation of his main theme, demonstrating instead that the adoption of a fashionably modernistic compositional technique is no guarantee that the resulting work will be stillborn. If, as he argues, “The abandonment of any tonality proved to be the death knell of memorability and ultimately for the works,” then how does he explain the enduring value of the Copland? Although he discusses the surface structure of the Fantasy at some length, he never addresses this most inevitable question.

The fact is that in his Piano Fantasy Copland did not really abandon traditional musical principles in applying some serial techniques. It is clear from listening to the work that he not intend the total abolition of harmonic direction or metrical flow practiced by the hard-line serialists, and it is largely the retention of these audible means of coherence — as shaped by the composer’s vivid and fertile musicality — that makes a very complex and demanding piece so compelling and satisfying.  Furthermore, those composers who did renounce traditional musical principles in the quest for novelty did not precipitate a “disastrous set of aesthetic consequences” because there were always enough inner-directed composers producing music with sincere conviction and of recognizable quality. Reale acknowledges this when he writes, “All composers did not march like lemmings to the sea: artists like Vincent Persichetti, Ned Rorem, and Leonard Bernstein stubbornly resisted the avant-garde.” And there were many, many more. What listeners are now beginning to realize is that while the pages of theNew York Times and other vehicles of middle-brow trendiness were filling their space with the oh-so-outrageous pronouncements of provocateurs like the diametrically opposed Cage and Babbitt, a substantial body of truly relevant music — truly relevant in the sense that it was concerned with the feelings of human beings — was being created, though few paid attention at time. (For example, Barber’s The Lovers, which has just won this year’s Grammy award as best contemporary composition, was introduced by the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1971 and broadcast nationally. Did anybody notice it then? Why did it have to wait until 1992 for its first recording?

So what kind of music does Paul Reale write, in his effort to be both modern and meaningful? His two sonatas both date from 1985-86 and make a rather similar impression, although the first is somewhat more sober in tone, the second a little lighter What he seems to do is to use fairly conventional materials — tonal, melodic — and juxtapose them, creating dense, busy textures in a rapidly shifting succession of tonalities, rhythmic patterns, and expressive states. In his own words, “The structures of the movements are like cinematic scenes shot out of sequence and later reassembled. Just as the viewer has become conditioned to the peregrinations of the movie camera, the listener will become accustomed to ostensibly unnatural juxtapositions of referential and abstract musical materials.”  My initial reaction to the music was irritation — it sounded like a jumble, a hodgepodge of often promising material never allowed to breathe or develop. After more than a few hearings, I became more accustomed to the rate of activity, but I can’t say that I found it to be satisfying listening. In fact, despite Reale’s devotion to “the simplest and most accessible materials,” I find his music less inviting than Copland’s formidable Piano Fantasy

Composed during the years 1955-57, the Fantasy is difficult to discuss, because it is totally non-referential and not the sort of music one generally describes as expressive. In one through-composed movement of 32 minutes, it holds the listener’s attention through its well-balanced variety of states of motion, if not emotion — what Reale calls “the improvisatory, stream-of-consciousness aspect of the work that characterizes the powerful intuitive impulses present in the best Copland works” — through its wide-ranging exploration of pianistic devices characteristic of the composer’s anti-Romantic treatment of the instrument, and through the lively nervousness of its irregular rhythms. Most of all, there is a brilliant clarity and audible coherence to the overall structural layout as well as to the patterns as they unfold, inviting and rewarding frequent rehearings. (It is this quality that Reale’s music seems to lack.)   Despite the severity of its surface, the music is recognizably Copland’s, with the crispness and freshness that characterize nearly all the composer’s work, shaped with sound artistic judgment.

The Four Piano Blues are far more often heard than the Piano Fantasy, and are much easier to assimilate. Yet, despite some vernacular touches, they are not really representative of Copland’s more populist style, nor are they “blues” in any meaningful sense. Actually they are quite abstract and rarefied in tone, despite their brevity.

John Jensen is an impressive pianist, currently located in Minneapolis, and familiar as an exponent of 20th-century music from his many recordings with the Mirecourt Trio. He has clearly mastered the forbidding technical demands of these works, although there is a harshness of tone and heaviness of attack that causes his playing to grate a bit at times. All in all, this new release offers some challenging listening for the more ambitious devotee of recent piano music.