African Heritage Symphonic Series, Vol. III (CD review)

Paul Freeman, Chicago Sinfonietta. Cedille Records CDR 90000 066.

There are four good reasons listeners may be interested in this disc from 2003. First, it continues the Cedille Records series of classical music by contemporary African American composers. Second, it's very naturally and realistically recorded. Third, it contains some darned good music. And fourth, it's always a pleasure hearing the work of the late Paul Freeman (1936-2015) and the ensemble he founded and conducted for so long, the Chicago Sinfonietta.

The album comprises about an hour's worth of material by four different composers. The opening piece is called Global Warming (1990) by Michael Abels. It's an exceptionally rhythmic and harmonic work, synthesizing Irish and Middle Eastern musical styles into a surprisingly coherent and entirely satisfying and entertaining whole. The second, and longest, piece is Cello Concerto (1975) by David Baker. It is typically mid-twentieth century in its greater emphasis on atmosphere than on melody, although there are some good jazz-inspired tunes to be found if you listen carefully, especially in the third movement. The cellist is Katinka Kleijn, and the mood is mostly melancholic; but, interestingly, the Sinfonietta's accompaniment contains no cellos.

Paul Freeman
The third work represented bears the title Essay for Orchestra (1994), written by William Banfield. Containing an abundance of percussion, the piece was originally a part of a longer production, but the composer thought, rightly so, that it could stand alone. It's kind of a fun exercise in "Name that instrument." During its ten minutes duration, practically every instrument in the band gets its moment in the sun.

Then, the disc concludes with Generations: Sinfonietta No. 2 for Strings (1996) by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson. The composer based each of its four movements loosely on descriptions of his own family: daughter, mothers, grandson, and fathers. Each movement uses one or more folk tunes combined with original melodies. The work is fascinating if slightly fragmented and sometimes repetitious.

The playing throughout is scrupulously meticulous, and Maestro Freeman is affectionate in his handling of the tunes. The whole affair is a testament to his the conductor's elegant sensibilities and innate sense of fun.

Cedille's sound, as always, goes for a natural hall ambience while occasionally overlooking ultimate transparency. Instruments sound best when they're isolated, and massed orchestral tones tend to get just the tiniest bit muddled. Nevertheless, the sound is easy on the ears, more pleasant sounding than most new recordings, and will have listeners recalling their last live concert. Which I count a very good thing.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa