American Orchestral Works (CD review)

Carlos Kalmar, Grant Park Orchestra. Cedille 90000 090.

This album of contemporary American orchestral works includes five relatively short pieces that Cedille advertise as making their recording premieres. I must admit I didn’t care overmuch for all of them, which may explain why nobody has ever recorded them before, but I must also admit that there are parts of some of them that are distinctly worth pursuing.

Things begin with a kaleidoscope affair by composer Barbara Kolb; it’s a ten-minute morsel called All in Good Time (1994). Kolb says it represents a rhythmic development of time, and it does indeed stop and start quite a lot on its way to its end. Fortunately, there are a few cute surprises along the way, and it makes for some fascinating listening, especially since Maestro Clarlos Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra seem to find much joy in it.

Following this piece, however, we find two rather gloomy works, Aaron Jay Kernis’s Sarabanda in Memoriam (1997) and Michael Hersch’s Ashes of Memory (1999). Call me a barbarian (“You’re a bararian”), but I found little solace, comfort, joy, or life in them; maybe, given their titles, the listener isn’t meant to. I know the usual retort to such a criticism is to say that I simply didn’t understand the music. Fair enough; I’ll accept that. I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t much like it, either.

John Corigliano’s Midsummer Fanfare (2004) I did like, though, quite a lot. It’s an energetic affair once it gets underway, and under Maestro Kalmar it’s most festive and confident. The final piece on the program is the longest at twenty-two minutes and perhaps the most conventional, John Harbison’s four-movement Partita for Orchestra (2000). A booklet note explains that the word “partita” has come to mean different things through the centuries, but that Harbison uses it in several ways: as a game, a playing with the music, and as a dance suite. The piece alternates between sweet, lyrical passages, playful ones, and moody ones, ending on a fairly spirited note. It’s fun, and, as I say, I enjoyed it.

I have come to expect good things from Cedille Records and anything engineered or co-engineered by Bill Maylone, and he did not disappointed me. The audio is exemplary. The orchestral sound is vivid, clear, vibrant, and open, with plenty of dynamic range and impact. In fact, the sound is so good it made even the downbeat Kernis and Hersch pieces more pleasurable to listen to.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:



JJP

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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