GILLIS: Paul Bunyon: An Overture to a Legend. Symphony No. 6: Mid-Century
USA. Symphony No. 5: In Memoriam.
SAYGUN: Symphony No. 4, Op. 53. Violin Concerto, Op. 44. Suite, Op.
MUSSORGSKY-STOKOWSKI: A Night on Bare Mountain. Entr'acte to Act IV
of Khovanshchina. Boris Godunov Symphonic Synthesis. Pictures
at an Exhibition.
TCHAIKOVSKY-STOKOWSKI: Solitude, Op 73 No. 6. Humoresque, Op. 10 No.
2. STOKOWSKI: Traditional Slavic Christmas Music
SHANKAR: Morning Love. Raga: Piloo. Prabhati.
Concerto for Sitar and Orchestra. Raga: Purlya Kalyan. Swara-Kakali.
Raga Mala - A Garland of
Ragas (Concerto N. 2 for Sitar and Orchestra).
ROTA: Symphonic suite from La Strada. Concerto
Soirée for Piano and
Orchestra. Dances from the film The Leopard.
December 2003 we favorably reviewed Albany/Troy's release of Don Gillis's Star-Spangled Symphony, Amarillo and A Dance Symphony (Symphony No. 8), see REVIEW. In August 2002 we covered another release on the same label of some of the composer's best-known works: Symphony 5 1/2, Symphony "X," Shindig and Encore Concerto (REVIEW) giving thanks to Albany/Troy for making this music available "even though it surely isn't in the class of music by major American composers." Well, perhaps those works weren't that impressive, but I take it back after hearing this superb new release of symphonies 5 and 6 and Paul Bunyan overture—all three worthy additions to the catalog of American symphonic music (these are all premiere recordings). There is a lean, clean "American" sound to this beautifully orchestrated music, and with an endless flow of tunes, attention is held throughout. Symphony 5 is dedicated to three flute players of the Texas Christian University who were pilots killed in action. Premiered in 1945 by the NBC Symphony conducted by Frank Black, it has three movements, the middle one a poignant elegy. Symphony No. 6 didn't have a sub-title when it was premiered in 1948—it was given the name of "Mid-Century USA" much later. Both of these symphonies are showcases for the orchestra replete with rousing brass passages similar to those used by John Williams almost three decades later in Star Wars. Paul Bunyon is Gilllis' rather subdued look at the legend, melancholy interspersed with bits of lively American dances. Hobson and Sinfonia Varsovia (don't let the name mislead you—this is a large orchestra) play this music perfectly and have been spectacularly recorded by an unidentified producer and engineer although Jon Schoenoff did editing and mastering. A terrific CD!
About a decade ago I first heard music of Turkish composer Ahmed Adnan Saygun (1907-1991) via a recording of two brilliant, fascinating piano concertos played by Gulsin Onay with the Hannover North German Radio Orchestra conducted by Gurer Aykal issued on Koch Schwann (3-1350) and now, unfortunately, discontinued. The enterprising cpo label already has released recordings four of Saygun's five symphonies (Nos. 1, 2, 3, 5) which I have not heard—and now we have this superb CD of two of his later works—Symphony No. 4, Op. 53 (1976) and the Violin Concerto, Op. 44 (1967), and the Suite, Op. 14 which dates from 1934. Saygun's work is strongly influenced by his native Turkish music and often by folk elements. Saygun had great interest in this and studied with Bartók, traveling with the Hungarian master on a field trip through Anatolia in 1936, acting as guide and interpreter. Saygun's music features exotic orchestral textures often reminiscent of Strauss and Korngold, and vivid use of brass and percussion. Habakuk Traber's CD notes call Symphony No. 4 a "sound drama" which it surely is with its contrasting violent orchestral outbursts and meditative moments. The violin concerto also leads the listener through a fascinating journey filled with darkness, energy and episodes of tranquility. This strange work is wonderfully played by Mirjam Tschopp who, perhaps, is the only violinist to play this demanding work. For many listeners, the high point of this CD will be the 12-minute Suite which utilizes folk music in a colorful way; the syncopated rhythms delight. Rasilainen, who already has to his credit superb recordings of Atterburg's symphonies reviewed on this site, obviously loves this music and he leads the fine orchestra in splendid performances. The recordings, made in Ludwigshafen, Philharmonie, June 2-6, 2003, a production of Stephen Reh Musikproduktion, Mettmann, boast wide-range, rich orchestral sound. Check this one out, for sure.
Naxos' disk of Stokowski transcriptions, a welcome addition to the CD catalog, was partly sponsored by the Leopold Stokowski Society which wishes to support new recordings of the Maestro's manfold rich orchestrations. Stokowski recorded all of these works previously with various orchestras: Night in 1939 (for the Fantasia soundtrack), 1940, 1953 and 1967; Boris in 1936, 1941 and 1968; Pictures in 1939, 1941 and 1965; Khovanshchina in 1922, 1927 and 1975; Solitude in 1937, 1941, 1945, 1953 and 1975; Humoresque in 1941, 1942, 1945, 1953 and 1976; and Christmas Music in 1934 and 1947. The major works here have been recorded recently—don't overlook Matthias Bamert's superb Chandos issue (REVIEW), or Oliver Knussen's on DGG (REVIEW). Serebrier is an ideal choice for conductor on this new release. He had a close connection with Stokowski; he was associate conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra and made the world premiere recording with Stokowski of Ives' Symphony No. 4. Serebrier's fascinating CD notes for this issue discuss both the music and the "Stokowski sound." Edward Johnson of the Leopold Stokowski Society also contributed helpful information. Serebrier's performances are brilliant and incisive, and, fortunately, he does not underplay percussion. He opts for the glorious shimmering soft string ending of Boris, as does Knussen but not Bamert (Stokowski didn't in his 1936 Philadelphia recording but did in his 1968 version with the Suisse Romande Orchestra—and it can also be heard in the live Boston Symphony broadcast of the same year, briefly available on the Memories label). The Bournemouth Symphony is in top form and the sonics, with producers/engineers Nick Parker and Phil Rowlands, are of demonstration quality. I eagerly await the SACD version of this recording which has been announced for fall release. The only negative element on this superb CD is that there aren't separate tracks for the different sections of Boris.
Ravi Shankar (born 1920 Rabindra Shankar Chowdhury) made an LP called West Meets East which in 1967 was on Billboard magazine's Best-Selling Classical Albums chart as well as winning the Best Chamber Music Performance Grammy the following year. Yehudi Menuhin played an important role in introducing Indian classical music to the world, and he participates in several of the performances on this new compilation of recodings made from 1966-1982. Featured are the two sitar concertos along with a group of solo/chamber works all displaying the unique sound of the sitar. This is one of the finest issues in EMI's budget Gemeni series, two packed CDs, beautifully remastered.
Another winner is Harmonia Mundi's deluxe edition of film music of Nino Rota played by the Orquesta Ciudad de Granada conducted by Josep Pons. We have suites from La strada and The Leopard, along with Concerto Soirée in which Benedetto Lupo is piano soloist. Delectable music, perfectly played and beautifully recorded. An 80+ page elaborate booklet gives detailed information and photographs about the movies and the composer. This is a class CD.
R.E.B. (June 2005)