Excellent performances throughout, and text is provided for Hiawatha. This is a fascinating, unusual disk worthy of investigation.
The main piece of this program is the Hiawatha Melodrama, a concert work for narrator and orchestra showing the relation between Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Longfellow’s poem The Song of Hiawatha, which Dvorak said had inspired him in the symphony. This work and some other compositions honor the relation between the Czech composer and American music and culture.
This compendium of music and words provides a genuinely interesting and difficult-to-describe musical experience that provides considerable insight into the ways in which America influenced Dvořák and the way the great Czech composer returned the favor.
This is one of those rare “concept albums” where the concept actually works. It offers a truly fresh and interesting perspective on Dvorák’s American period, while still assembling a program that makes for enjoyable listening on its own. Few of us bother to read Longfellow’s poem anymore, but hearing it wedded to Dvorák’s music really does create a powerful and, somehow, nostalgic atmosphere of perhaps a more innocent age. I found it quite moving, and the rest of the performances very enjoyable. You will too.
The performances are unfailingly excellent, with Kevin Deas (the only holdover from the 2012 Buffalo concert) deserves special mention for his mellifluous yet passionate narration of the Hiawatha texts, which are provided in the liner notes. This is not background music, and deserves your full attention, including reading Horowitz’s fluent but comprehensive program notes.
This disc won me over in its first twenty seconds—the skittering, playfully dissonant opening passage of Xavier Montsalvatge’s Folia Daliniana for four solo winds, strings, and percussion.
Technically the recording is spotless and Sato Moughalian’s informative liner notes, from which I have culled most of the background information in the review, are exemplary. Those whose only acquaintance with Montsalvatge’s music so far has been the Cinco canciones negras should grab the opportunity to expand their knowledge by acquiring the present disc.
The Spanish composer Xavier Montsalvatge is no household name, but you couldn’t ask for a better introduction to his elegant, refined and piquant oeuvre than this vibrant collection by New York City’s Perspectives Ensemble. A well-balanced selection of pieces composed from 1969 to 1995, the disc is further abetted by the mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke’s ravishing voice and the violinist Tim Fain’s bravura solo work.
The Perspectives Ensemble under conductor Angel Gil-Ordóñez brings us lovely performances that exemplify Montsalvatge in various stylistic guises, who like Stravinsky went through a number of transformations while still remaining recognizably himself.
Montsalvatge’s more-substantial works reach beyond ethnicity to communicate with cross-cultural genuineness that is highly effective – especially so in his major song cycles, such as Cinco invocaciones al Crucificado (1969), sung with intense feeling on Naxos’ new CD by mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, and conducted with sure-handed skill by Angel Gil-Ordóñez, one of the foremost exponents of modern small-ensemble works, both choral and instrumental.
Nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign FIlm in 1999, El Abuelo is a warm and wonderful film, set in the lush northern Spanish provinces on a beautiful seaside country estate. Beautifully filmed in color and scope, the film owes much to photographer Rául Pérez and composer Manuel Balboa, with the exquisite music complementing the sumptuous visuals.
The newly recorded soundtrack is largely excellent, with the PostClassical Ensemble exemplifying the understated, light, and precise style of playing needed for Copland’s music. The striking saxophone solos are particularly evocative and compare very favorably to their counterparts on the original recording. (Such comparisons are easily made, since the DVD also includes the entire film with the original soundtrack as a bonus feature.)
The reissue of these documentaries, accompanied by a superb restoration of the black and white image, is accompanied by a new recording of texts and scores (also available on two separate CDs). Nostalgics can watch the original version of the films and their soundtrack. Exciting discussions complete this work and remind us of the time of hope and social progress that were the Roosevelt years.
This disc neatly captures a central dichotomy of the career of composer Aaron Copland. Raised in New York City, Copland gained his greatest successes with scores that extol a rural, bucolic vision of American life. Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, Billy the Kid — compositions that present an idealized, perhaps even sentimentalized portrayal of a boisterous, green America, while containing enough musical sophistication and imagination to remain perpetually fresh. One of the composer’s early forays into film composition came when he was asked to score a 45 minute documentary called The City, which is in effect an advertisement for Lewis Mumford’s planned community, Greenbelt. Before the filmmakers (Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke) turn their film over to a rapturous hymn to Greenbelt, they set the stage by contrasting the virtues of country living with the veritable hell of city life, circa 1939 — the very city life that produced Aaron Copland.
Copland’s score features contrasting musical styles to support the on-screen images and rhetoric. Idyllic rural and suburban life is represented by pastoral, consonant music, while urban conditions are shown to dissonant, rhythmically jarring portions of the score. Additionally, there is often a strong physical correlation between specific images and musical figures, such as the clarinet triplet passage that plays while the viewer is shown a water wheel. The new recording of the score surpasses the original in many respects. There is greater dynamic range, more detail of orchestral color, and in general, the score works better as abstract music in the hands of the PostClassical Ensemble.
This DVD allows us to see that same film, but now with a soundtrack that sounds like one would expect in a modern production, with the quality that corresponds to those images, of disturbing beauty –evocative images of a world that no longer exists, although in reality it was not quite so. Ángel Gil-Ordóñez and the PostClassical Ensemble give artistic and sonorous quality to this little-known score of Copland the the cinematographer, a wide-ranging score, an authentic masterpiece of the specialty, which is better to hear with the images for which it was composed.
Following their remastering of Pare Lorentz’s earlier The Plow That Broke the Plains and The River, with music by Virgil Thomson –films that influenced The City considerably– the PostClassical Ensemble has given this Copland score its first modern recording (conducted by Angel Gil-Ordóñez) and issued it on a bountiful DVD that includes a version of the film with the original soundtrack, a discussion between Joseph Horowitz and the filmmaker George Stoney, and a documentary about Greenbelt.
In the sad list of musicians who had their promising film career interrupted due to their premature death, we must include Manuel Balboa, a Galician composer who delivered, despite everything, a bouquet of exquisite works of great musical quality –and which in the end hurts more, a subtle but elegant voice of his own, something that is so eagerly needed for film music in general.
Under the direction of Ángel Gil-Ordóñez, the Galicia Symphony Orchestra interpreted with enviable ease the four scores of Balboa, characterized by its elegant classicism far removed from Hollywood pomposity.
If you have never heard the scores before and you have heard Copland you will be surprised at the similiarity of the music style. If you haven’t heard either composer this is at least one way to introduce yourself to Thomson with two of his better works and always remember the good value that Naxos has to offer. Highly recommended. Golden Scores Rating is ****.