Three enjoyable compositions, only lacking strikingly distin
Discophage | France | 12/13/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In the late 1980s Albany records reissued some of the Louisville Orchestra's back catalog (paired in some cases with recent recordings) originally published on the orchestra's famed First Edition Records LPs. That was short-lived, and yielded only ten releases. Subsequently or simultaneously, Louisville continued their releases of new material on CD under the label First Edition Recordings, which also stopped after ten releases.
For all that the Louisville LP s brought to the recorded legacy of 20th Century music of all schools and nationalities, one of their drawbacks was their motley programs and bringing together on a single LP of composers with hardly any stylistic or personal ties, and the CDs released on First Edition Recordings partly continued that trend. The present one, LCD 001, was the first instalment in that series and didn't seem an excessively attractive offer, bundling together three composers who are by no means (then and now) at the forefront of the national or international circuit, and whose stylistic kinship is not necessarily obvious. As it turns out, it offers genuine enjoyment.
I had encountered the name of the Canadian (but US-trained) Sidney Hodkinson before - his "Fresco" joined the early Orchestral Variations of George Crumb (now reissued on Crumb: Variazioni, Echoes of Time and the River) on Louisville LS 774, released in the early 1980s, and I read good reviews of it - but this is the first time I hear his music. The main interest of his Sinfonia Concertante is that it is difficult to pigeonhole stylistically. It starts (and ends) in a way evocative of Riley's or Reich's Baroque-inspired orchestral dance movements, goes on with an angry boogie-woogie for piano playing in the low registers with wild orchestral riffs, and moves through various styles, quoting popular dance forms. The orchestra is busy and agitated, mostly light-hearted. The second movement features a lyrical and plaintive solo cello, sounding slightly off-pitch, and later moves on to strikingly beautiful string glissandos which remind me of the orchestral writing of one of my favorite 20th Century composers, the Korean Isang Yun; it then gives way to an unbelievably schmaltzy take off of a Hollywood Waltz. Similar take-offs, of polkas and hoedowns, fill the finale. Quoted in the liner notes, Hodkinson legitimates his approach by referring to the practice of all composers since the baroque era to incorporate dance forms into their "serious music". Yes but. When Vivaldi, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven and Brahms do that, they turn the popular tunes into their music, not the other way around. Here the styles are too variegated and the borrowings too many to make the Sinfonia Concertante an entirely satisfactory composition, I find.
Wilfred Josephs (1927-1997) is a name which I had run across but I would have been unable to say where and when he came from. As it turns out, he was an English composer who earned a living as a dentist, until the day in 1963 when he won a major international composing competition, which prompted him to devote himself to composing for good. The Variations were written in 1969 to honor the 200th Anniversary of Beethoven's birth (1770). The theme comes from Sonata opus 49/2 - the composer later reused it in the third movement, Tempo di Minuetto, of his famous Septet. In its sprightly and carefree character, it is not obvious fodder for a series of variations in contemporary musical language. Ironically, Josephs himself says of it that "it is none of [Beethoven's] best" (but for a Schubert theme it would be perfect, I think). Of course, many 20th Century composers have written orchestral variations - and the Louisville Orchestra has commissioned, performed and recorded its share, three significant ones by Dallapiccola, Carter and Copland having been reissued on Variations - but they have been usually on original themes, avoiding the obvious risk arising from the choice of a theme from the past: the probable stylistic clash with the contemporary language applied to its variations. Indeed, hearing the initial utterance of Beethoven's theme, even in Josephs' eerie and soft orchestration likening it at times to music from a music box or from a distant past, one wonders where it will lead him. As it turns out, some of the variations are quite original in the choice of the melodic elements they develop and in their orchestration devices. Variation 6 (track 10) is particularly remarkable in that it must be among the most hushed orchestral sound I have heard - a nice touch. The language is reasonably modern without being abstruse, sometimes intensely lyrical (variation 4, track 8) - composers like Schuman or Mennin can come to mind. It is also eclectic, and variation 8 (track 12) sounds like a Mahler landler (variation 8, track 12).
I had never heard of Karl Korte - an American composer born in 1928. His Symphony was written in 1969 and earned a composition prize in Belgium, but nonetheless wasn't performed in its entirety until this Louisville performance from 1985. It is a fine composition of contemporary music. Like Josephs', its language is modern without being abstruse. Again the music of late Schuman or Mennin can come to mind, but Korte's is more dramatic, brutal at times, and orchestrated in a way which constantly calls for attention, with passing references to jazz which I feel weren't absolutely necessary (they also create a stylistic clash and convey a feeling of eclecticism rather than a sense of purpose - and the symphony is rich enough to have been able to stand without those elements).
But ultimately the limitation of these compositions, I feel, other than their occasional or essential eclecticism, is that, for all the enjoyment they may procure, they break no new grounds nor present strikingly distinctive compositional personalities. I'll keep this CD more for the sake of completedness of my Louisville collection than because of any feeling that the compositions are essential.