DENLER: An American Symphony No. 1. Six Variations for Violin and Piano
BIZET: Symphony in C. Jeux d'Enfants, Op. 22. Variations
chromatiques (orch. Weingartner).
SHCHEDRIN: The Sealed Angel
"ORCHESTRAL ORGAN CLASSICS"
American composer Charles Denler has a distinguished career as a composer of music for movies, documentaries and commercials. Winner of two Emmy Awards for his music, he has also received other honors as well. Denler always wanted to compose a major symphonic work, and here is his first, his Symphony No. 1, featured on this new Reference Recordings CD called Portraits of Colorado (the composer's adopted state). Actually it really isn't a major symphonic work, rather a suite of 10 brief movements each with a descriptive title: Rocky Mountain Odyssey, The Sangre de Cristos, Walk in the White Forest, Where Wild Horses Run, The Dance, Ranch in the Highlands, Sunset Over Longs Peak, Moment at Dawn, The Columbine Tribute, and Mountain Odyssey with finale. Inspiration for the work came from artwork of American painter Jerry Malzahn. These are beautiful miniatures, some with a distant chorus singing in Latin, but CD notes do not define texts and there are no translations. Lovely though it is, this music says nothing new and perhaps is better suited for background listening rather than the concert hall. Scoring often includes a rather prominent piano part played by the composer in this recording made in November 2012 in Denver's resonant Boettcher Concert Hall. There also is a prominent organ, but no organist is identified. Audio, as usual with Reference Recordings when working in a fine hall, is superb, rich and defined. The disk is filled out (skimpily) with six sections of the symphony arranged for violin and piano; they impress more with rich orchestral sonorities. .On the subject of American Western orchestral music, how about a new recording of Hershy Kay's delightful Western Symphony, an imaginative compilation of many familiar Western songs recorded in excellent stereo more than a half-century ago by Robert Irving and the New York City Ballet Orchestra, long out-of-print.
Another new issue from Reference is a Bizet collection featuring the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra conducted by Martin West. This site unenthustically mentioned their previous issue of ballet music of Delibes (REVIEW). The brightest side of this release is inclusion of all 12 pieces Bizet wrote for piano four-hands, Jeux d'Enfants. The usual suite consists of only five sections orchestrated by the composer; here we have the remainder in orchestrations by Hershey Kay and Roy Douglas—very pleasant to hear, indeed. Another plus is the rarely heard and virtually unrecorded Variations Chromatiques. This, composed in 1868 for solo piano, is considered to be Bizet's major work for the instrument, utilizing an original theme with 14 variations. Famed conductor Felix Weingartner orchestrated the work, and included a solo violin cadenza. Apparently there is only one recording, made in 1973 by the Louisville Orchestra, long unavailable. There might be good reason for its neglect on the concert stage; it surely doesn't represent Bizet at his finest—but at least we have an opportunity to hear it. The performance of the charming symphony lacks charm and sparkle—there are dozens of recordings of this youthful work superior to what is heard here, particularly those by Munch and Martinon. The San Francisco orchestra sounds smallish and under rehearsed. The unidentified recording venue is not ideal, and engineers do what can be done, but there is a tubby sound in lower frequencies and a lack of natural resonance. Some collectors may wish to acquire this disk simply to have music of Bizet not available elsewhere.
Russian liturgical music figures prominently in Rodion Shchedrin varied compositions. He wrote many works for chorus, particularly the magnificent The Sealed Angel composed in 1988, a Russian orthodox text setting of nine anthems. This is based on Nikolai Leskov's story written in 1872. The Sealed Angel is fictional and tells of a group of Old Believers working to build a stone bridge over the Dniepr River in Ukraine. The Old Believers icon is a shining angel, and their believe in it is total. Persecuted for their refusal to accept reforms of the Orthodox Church, their icon is confiscated, so they made a duplicate. The bishop proclaims the copy is more holy than the original as it removed its own wax seal. Although CD notes are quite comprehensive, no titles or texts are provided for each of the anthems. Shchedrin's music is moving, powerful and reverential, and must be incredibly difficult to perform. The rich choral textures are gently augmented by a solo flute representing an angel.The premiere was June 18, 1988 in the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow with the same choruses and conductor who made this recording the following year. This performance, long out of print, could be considered definitive and we are fortunate that now it has been reissued. If you enjoy Rachmaninnoff's Vespers you'll surely gain much pleasure in this stunning masterpiece by Shchedrin. Now, Meloydia, how about reissuing the incredible Alexander Sveshnikov recording of Vespers? The Sealed Angel shows Shchedrin's devout approach to religion. For one of his latest spectacular orchestral works, check out the Double Concerto for Cello and Piano dedicated to and played by Mischa Maisky and Martha Argerich, available on DVD (REVIEW).
Priory is a superb label devoted to music for the organ and their extensive catalog includes many important performances not available elsewhere. Now we have this new CD called Orchestral organ Classics, a compilation of transcriptions for organ of a wide variety of orchestral works, a different view of this familiar music, if you enjoy this sort of thing. Seven organists participate performing on eight famous organs, although the biggest and to me the best, the magnificent instrument in Royal Festival Hal, is not one of them. Excellent performance and fine stereo sound throughout; you might wish to check their WEBSITE to see their impressive catalog of music better suited for the instrument.
R.E.B. (August 2013)