8 short, little-known American masterworks
email@example.com | Chicago | 08/27/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This unique album contains 8 extraordinary works for small orchestra by as many American composers--most of them seldom or nowhere else recorded. Only Hovhaness, Barber and Diamond have achieved much celebrity among the general public. Nevertheless, this is a must-have album for fans of mid-century American music. In "Talin", the longest work on the cd (20+ minutes), Hovhaness, is at his best and clearest, interweaving harmonic and contrapuntal writing, with a sinuous clarinet guiding the proceedings. With its strange modal ending, the work effectively conjures up the great city of ancient Armenia and the tragedy of its passing into history. Donald Wilson is perhaps the least known of the composers featured on this recording. His "Dedication" is a profoundly sad, vaguely fugal work, reminiscent of Vaughan Williams' "Tallis Fantasia", and just as remarkable. It is one of the more pleasant surprises on this album. Barber's first opus, the "Serenade for Strings", written at the age of 19, is of unusually high quality for a first work. It is at least as good and absorbing as his better known "Essays" and "String quartet" (with its ubiquitous adagio), melding as it does perturbed fervidity and congeniality. "The Winter's Passed", by Barlow is an archetypal work of Americana, with its timeless melody and simple texture. It is widely available, but it is extraordinarlily well represented here under Flagello's baton. David Diamond's "Elegy" the most harmonically complex work on the album, but like its companions, is accessible and rewarding to the casual listener. Associate producer Jeffrey Kaufman composed this extraordinarily beautiful, harmonically and emotionally complex work. To my knowledge, it, (along with the remainder of Kaufman's oeuvre) can be heard nowhere else, and its scant 4 minutes are worth the price of the album. Ironically, my only criticism of this album is an apparent glitch on this track: 5 notes and 6 seconds into the piece, it seems to start over. The effect is quite annoying, and a source of dispute between myself and the executive producer, Tom Null of Citadel Records. If possible, please listen to this track and post your thoughts. What follows is a harmonically structured work by the conductor, Nicholas Flagello. It is excerpted from his forgotten opera, "The Judgement of St. Francis". Depicting Francis in captivity, it is almost unbearable in its desolate beauty. Few people who listen to this album can get through it without weeping, and if they have not succumbed to the preceding works, this piece will probably catch them. The finale is an almost jovial counterpoint, full of melodic leaps, rhythmic play and genial humor. Strangely, it is not at all out of place on the album, and may even serve to prevent suicides!"