By John J. Puccio
a. An instrumental composition, especially of the 1600s or 1700s, consisting of a succession of dances in the same or related keys.
b. An instrumental composition consisting of a series of varying movements or pieces.” --American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
Apparently, the folks at Navona Records want to let you know that the dance suite of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is still alive and well today, and on the current disc they include four composers of dance suites from the past and present. Maestro Orlando Cela conducts The Lowell Chamber Orchestra in suites by Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), Jose Elizondo (b. 1972), and Anthony R. Green (b. 1984).
In the event you are unfamiliar with Mr. Cela, he is both a flutist and conductor, premiering over 200 new works. He currently serves as the Music Director of the Arlington Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orchestra of the North Carolina Governor’s School. He has also guest conducted the Manchester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale, the London Classical Soloists, the Marquette Symphony Orchestra, and others. He created the Ningbo Symphony Orchestra during his year as visiting professor at Ningbo University in China.
As for The Lowell Chamber Orchestra, they are the first and only professional orchestra in the city of Lowell, Massachusetts. Their Web site explains that they “provide the area with an ensemble that presents music at a very high level, of all styles and time periods, entirely free to the general population.”
Anyway, the selections on the disc are ordered chronologically, so things begin with the six-movement Overture Suite in E minor by Telemann. A booklet note tells us that Telemann composed some 138 known overture suites, and they are probably only a fraction of the number he actually wrote. So now you know why the album begins with Telemann. The Lowell Chamber Orchestra play all the pieces with a graceful affection, and Maestro Cela leads them with a deft and lively touch.
Then we come to the modern pieces, starting with Recuerdos Estivos (“Summer Memories”), a three-movement work by Elizondo. The nice thing here is that the pieces don’t sound entirely out of place with the rest of the program of early music. In fact, Elizondo’s suite is light, relaxed, and tuneful, a kind of throwback to more Romantic times. Well, I suppose the title should have told us that; we get suggestions of Frederick Delius here, maybe “Summer Night on the River,” although not quite so meandering. Then the work ends with a movement that sounds as if we were back with Telemann. While the whole thing may appear insubstantial, it’s altogether delightful, and the orchestra appears to be enjoying the playfulness of the music as much as the listener.
The disc ends with a three-movement work called The Green Double: a historical dance suite by Anthony R. Green. Here, the composer draws on black history and classical music to create his dances. Like Elizondo, Green makes no attempt to be “modern” in the sense of being experimental, atonal, or eccentric. There are no sounds involved for the sake of sound alone. Every note is calculated to create a mood, a feeling, a longing, a fear, or a consoling, Probably the best way to describe the piece is hopeful and comforting. I wasn’t sure what to expect when we came to the disc’s contemporary music, and I was happy with the creative, listenable diversity I found.
Executive Producer Bob Lord and Session Engineer John Weston recorded the album at Futura Productions in Roslindale, MA in 2019-2020. The sound is quite good, neither too bright nor too dull. The frequency spectrum is clear and well balanced, with good transparency, extended highs, and convincing lows. Moreover, dynamics are more than adequate for the type of music it is, and because of the relatively small size of the ensemble and the success of the engineering, we get a fine sense of depth and space among the players. All is well.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: