American Flute Concertos (CD review)

Mary Stolper, flute; Paul Freeman, Czech National Symphony Orchestra. Cedille Records CDR 90000 046.

Cedille Records just keep rolling merrily along, producing some of the best-sounding CDs in the marketplace. Even when the recording originates in Prague, as this one does, it sounds as natural and lifelike as the company's Chicago-based productions.

The works for flute and orchestra presented here are all by American composers, meaning they are relatively modern. The earliest was written in 1918, Charles Griffes's "Poem for Flute and Orchestra."  It is done in a single, ten-minute movement, largely melancholy, with a simple lyrical twist about halfway through. Coming next chronologically is Kent Kennan's "Night Soliloquy for Flute, Strings and Piano," 1936. He aptly titled it, as it conjures up images of a quiet, almost eerie night that builds up momentum to a dramatic solo, eventually fading into nothingness.

The most famous name on the program is that of Virgil Thomson, represented here by his "Concerto for Flute, Strings, Harp and Percussion" from 1954. It is unusual in that its first movement is entirely a flute solo. It is mostly calm and settled, building only slightly as it moves forward; it is followed by a sullen middle movement, and then by the entrance of harp and percussion in the finale.

Mary Stolper
From 1960 comes Elie Siegmeister's "Concerto for Flute and Orchestra." It begins as a nostalgic piece and then works its way toward jazz and more modern rhythms by the end. Finally, the newest work on the disc is the one that opens the album, Lita Grier's "Renascence," 1996, which the composer calls her "rebirth" because it was her first new composition in over thirty years. Of the three movements, the first and third are quick, lively, spirited, and just a little quirky. They display a variety of temperaments, none developed at length. The slow middle movement, however, is beautifully haunting and Debussy-like in its pastel shadings.

Handling the flute solos is Mary Stolper, currently the Principal Flute of the Grant Park Symphony, Chicago Opera Theater, and the music ensemble Fulcrum Point. Throughout these works, her playing remains graceful, fluid, and animated by turns. The late conductor Paul Freeman's orchestral accompaniment is almost invisible, and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra provides a cozy support. Although the album is a little on the somber side, it takes a fascinating and well-deserved glimpse at some of America's less-known and perhaps less-appreciated music.

The sound for the disc is clear, reasonably transparent, and well balanced, never unduly highlighting any single instrument, except, of course, the flute, which the engineers have placed realistically within the ensemble setting.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


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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