Fetler: Violin Concerto No. 2 (CD review)

Also Capriccio and Three Poems by Walt Whitman.  Aaron Berofsky, violin; Thomas H. Blaske, narrator; Arie Lipsky, Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra.  Naxos 8.559606.

Who's Paul Fetler? I hear some of you asking. It's hard to keep up with all the modern composers who dot the musical landscape these days, even though Mr. Fetler (b. 1920) has been around for quite a long time and gained a sizable following. He's one of those contemporary composers who isn't afraid to reach out and touch an audience rather than bludgeon them with heavy-handed, often experimental noise. As such, his music is easily accessible and highly enjoyable.

Fetler, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota teaching music composition describes his compositional approach as "progressive lyricism" or expressively flowing melodies. Certainly, the three works on this 2009 Naxos disc reflect his lyrical style.

The program begins with Three Poems by Walt Whitman (written to commemorate the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976), musical settings for some of the great American poet's words, with a narration by lifelong Whitman scholar and Ann Arbor attorney, Thomas H. Blaske. The three selected pieces represent the tranquil as well as the outgoing sides of the poet, from "I am he who walks with the tender and growing night" to "Beat! Beat! Drums!" to "Ah, from a little child." If you like Whitman, Fetler does his lines justice.

Next is the single-movement but infinitely varied Capriccio (commissioned as a dedicatory work for the opening concert of the Minneapolis Chamber Symphony in 1985), a wonderfully light, playfully upbeat little set of ditties that make an appropriate contrast to the more-serious tempers of Whitman.

Things conclude with the showpiece of the album, the Violin Concerto No. 2 (1980), which the composer characterizes as a "labor of love," meaning it was not a commission and he was under no deadline to complete it.  The opening movement has a vaguely dark, foreboding, Eastern-European cast to it, which quickly opens up to a sunnier, more-inviting mood. It is poetically graceful, reminiscent of the more-placid elements of Enesco. Aaron Berofsky's violin passages dart nimbly amongst a whole bevy of attractive tunes, becoming quite dramatic by the close. In the second movement Adagio the tone turns more to Debussy in its atmospheric reverie. Then, the final movement takes the work out with a bang, Berofsky keeping his violin in constant motion.

The performers seem to be enjoying themselves immensely, and it's all quite agreeable, as is Naxos's sound. It's the kind of sound that my late dear friend Nate Garfinkle might surely have characterized as "sweet." It's not exactly a state-of-the-art audiophile recording, but it does come across as pleasantly realistic, with a natural sense of orchestral depth and presence. While the deepest bass, the widest dynamics, and the strongest transient impact may be slightly wanting, the overall sonic impression is velvety smooth and pleasing.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa