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American Contrasts
et al Benjamin Lees (Composer)
American Contrasts
Genres: Special Interest, Classical
  •  Track Listings (7) - Disc #1


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All Artists: et al Benjamin Lees (Composer)
Title: American Contrasts
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: Delos Records
Original Release Date: 5/27/2003
Release Date: 5/27/2003
Genres: Special Interest, Classical
Styles: Forms & Genres, Concertos, Symphonies
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPC: 013491329123

CD Reviews

Two Treasures, Two Trifles
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 08/25/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)

"The real find here is the 'Passacaglia for Orchestra' by a genuine master of American music, the under-appreciated Benjamin Lees, now in his 80th year. The muscular 11-minute 'Passacaglia' is based on a disjunct 24-note quasi-atonal cello theme that strikes me as a deconstruction of the theme from Bach's 'Art of Fugue,' although I have no idea if that was Lees' intention. It consists of the theme followed by nineteen variations and a coda. Lees' mastery of orchestration and compositional inventiveness get a real work-out here. There is metrical and rhythmic diversity (e.g., one of the variations is in 5/8), creative orchestration (one variation has growling trombone/tuba flutter-tonguing, another has hypnotic, but humorous, use of temple blocks), augmentation and diminution of the theme, brass chorales, leap-frogging strings, all leading to the coda for full orchestra with triumphant pealing bells, a joyous conclusion to a short but densely constructed piece that has been played many times by American orchestras but never, to my knowledge, recorded before. It is played brilliantly by the Oregon Symphony under its outgoing music director, the hugely talented James DePreist (the most misspelled conductor in recent memory), a man who has given many of us many memorable performances of 20th-century music. [As if happens, I have another DePreist/Oregon recording in my review pile, a collection of music by Oregon composer Tomas Svoboda.]The Passacaglia is followed by a classic of American symphonic composition, the Fourth Symphony of Vincent Persichetti (1915-1987). It was composed for and premièred by Eugene Ormandy's Philadelphia Orchestra in 1954 and recorded by them shortly afterward. That mono recording, coupled with an effective suite by Louis Gesensway called 'Four Squares of Philadelphia,' was a staple of the old Columbia catalog for many years. Those performances have been transferred to CD on the Albany Label (and coupled with William Schuman's 'Credendum'); I don't have that CD but a quick listen of my old LP reveals that the Ormandy/Philly recording is more immediately effective that this DePreist/Oregon version. The current recording seems a bit recessed, particularly in the first movement. Also, the whirling violins in IV are a bit covered in the current recording, robbing the exciting finale of some immediacy. I can't say enough for the Oregon winds and brass, however, and suspect the covered strings are the result more of the CD's sound production than the orchestra or conductors doing. This symphony has long been a favorite and you owe it to yourself to familiarize yourself with it, either from this CD or the one on Albany. The final two pieces here are by Michael Daugherty (b. 1954), who has had a run of recordings recently. I will say up front that I've yet to hear anything by Daugherty that made me want to hear it again. And that goes for these two pieces--'Sundown on South Street' from his Second Symphony, and 'Hell's Angels.' Daugherty's style tends to borrow a good deal from vernacular music--jazz, pop, rock--and frankly it seems to me that he makes a dog's breakfast of it all. Others, obviously, feel much more positive about it. 'Hell's Angels' is a concerto of sorts for bassoon quartet (three bassoons, one contra-bassoon) and it certainly is well-played by the soloists. However, there is such vulgarity and triviality inherent in the piece that I think it is better if I say no more. Suffice it to say, I recommend this CD for the Persichetti and especially for the Lees. They account for about 38 minutes of the CD's total of 61 minutes. One final note: I have indicated in some earlier reviews (primarily of re-releases on Naxos of pieces previously released on Delos and featuring the Seattle Symphony under Gerard Schwarz) that I thought the Delos label had gone belly up. Obviously I was wrong. I not only apologize for having suggested it, but hasten to add that I'm delighted to hear that they still exist. They have given us many fine recordings of American music over the years. I hope they continue to do so for many years to come.Scott Morrison"
Crisp & Coherent
Dominic Naglee | Oregon City, OR USA | 03/17/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Enjoying Classical music for over 50 years, I find it stimulating to listen to a body of work that captures your attention without offending. "Contrasts" is an excellant CD!
To the Classical Purist blending different musical period styles is for the most part an uncomfortable experience. However, from the Composer's point of view, it is a much more difficult task to be able to combine musical/period/styles and pull off a cohesive entity. "Hell's Angels" qualifies, with ease, as one of those rare orchestral pieces. Being a "Classical Purist" makes one content to whirl around in an eddy as opposed to enjoying the whole river and its many currents which freely intertwine. Dom's view"