for Horn and Orchestra. Middle Earth. Gate City -
A Methodist Hymn.
Richard Todd, French Horn; San Luis Obispo Symphony/Michael Nowak, cond.
NAXOS 8.559168 (B) (DDD) TT: 59:25
POWELL: Symphony in A Major "Virginia Symphony." TRADITIONAL Shenandoah (arr.
Virginia Symphony/JOAnn Falletta, cond.
ALBANY TROY 589 (F) (DDD) TT: 58:06
Craig Russell (b. April 3, 1951) has a Master's degree in guitar from the
University of New Mexico and a Ph.D. in Historical Musicology from the University
of North Carolina. He
has worked with the musical group Chanticleer, reconstructing early
music from Mexican
and Californian archives and assisting in recordings of this music. In 1982
Russell became a professor at California Polytechnic State University, San
Luis Obispo, and
won many teaching
awards. A classical guitarist, he studied the instrument in New Mexico with
Héctor A. García and in Spain with Emilio Pujol.
Middle Earth is a set of nine
very short pieces (one is only :32) with imaginative titles suggested by
which feature unusual musical effects. Gate City, the second
movement of the composer's Symphony No. 2 (American Scenes), a brief
and reverent Methodist Hymn, is dedicated to Russell's parents. The major
work on this CD, Rhapsody
for Horn and Orchestra, was commissioned
by the San Luis Obispo Symphony in 1998 and dedicated to Richard Todd who
premiered it in 2000 when this recording was made. Rhapsody is
long (41:42) with five movements: Morning's
Decisions, Dizzy Bird, Wistful Musing, Tito Machito and Flash.
The first and third, the two longest (11:26 & 12:51), according to the
composer's program notes, "pay spiritual homage to...Barber's...violin
concerto, and share a
or two." The second, Dizzy Bird, suggests "the infectious energy
and originality of those amazing bop tunes by Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie
The fourth, Tito Machito, is rather a tribute to Machito and Tito
the final Flash is "a merciless perpetuo moto." Some have described
Craig's music as "Coplandesque," and indeed it does suggest the American
music on occasion—but after
CD three times I
memorable aside from Richard Todd's incredible virtuoso performance of Rhapsody.
Todd is a major figure among today's horn players
in both jazz and classical music
recording career for soundtracks. The San Luis Obispo orchestra has been
around for four decades and plays very well indeed under young conductor
Michael Nowak, who also has a second career as a master violist. Naxos' engineering
More seldom-heard American music is found on the Albany/Troy issue which
features the Virginia Symphony under its conductor JoAnn Falletta who has led
since 1991. John Powell was born in Virginia in 1882 and after local musical
training went to Vienna where he studied piano and composition. He made his
debut as a pianist in Berlin in 1907, toured Europe before WWI and then
returned to Virginia. Like Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel (1738-1822) (see REVIEW),
Powell was an astronomer as well as a musician, and awarded an honorary membership
French Astronomy Society for discovering a comet. He died in 1963. His works
include concertos for violin and piano, two string quartets, an orchestral
suite, music for the piano including four sonatas, and arrangements of folk
songs which he collected methodically. Powell was a racist;
his reputation has been, as stated in the CD notes, "tarnished by his racial
views, which, while applauded by many in the first half of the century, became
totally unacceptable later in his life."
Powell completed his Symphony in A in 1945 but revised it in 1951, calling
Symphony instead of the original Symphony on Virginian
Folk Themes and in the Folk Modes. It consists of folk melodies the composer
discovered in the Virginia countryside. CD notes advise the general style of
is "grandiose" employing the late Romantic Germanic orchestration and optimistically
state that Powell's style is "reminiscent...of Ralph Vaughan Williams," who
was Powell's English counterpart. It's a long symphony in four movements, a
folk tunes with many sparkling lively dances. All pleasant to hear, and very
well played by the orchestra under Falletta's dynamic direction. As a filler
we have Carmen Dragon's orchestration of one of the best-known of all folk
tunes, Shenandoah, in which the strings of the orchestra show a welcome
sound. Recorded in Chrysler Hall, Norfolk, Virginia September 7-8, 2001, the
sonic quality is excellent. It's unfortunate more of Powell's music wasn't
included—58:06 isn't much playing time for a full-price CD.
R.E.B. (June 2003)