ROREM: Piano Concerto No. 2 (1951). Cello Concerto (2002)
DUKE: Piano Concerto (Orch. Dunn) (1923/1998). Cello Concerto (1945).
Homage to Boston (1945)
HARTKE: The Greater Good
G. COATES: Symphony No. 15 "Homage to Mozart." (2004-5) Cantata da Requiem
"WWII Poems for Peace." (1972) Transitions. (1984)
RÓZSA: Violin Concerto, Op. 24. Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Cello
and Orchestra, Op. 29.
Naxos again earns the respect and admiration of serious record collectors. There are many important recordings here, some world premieres. The two concertos on the Rorem CD are separated by a half-century. Piano Concerto No. 2 was composed in 1951 for Julius Katchen and in spite of highly favorable reviews fell into oblivion for five decades. It's a brilliant showpiece for the soloist and you'll hear traces of Rachmaninoff and other romantic composers, but with an overall American flavor. The Cello Concerto dates from 2002, and in this Rorem gives titles to each of the 8 sections which include There and Back, Competitive Chaos, A Dozen Implications, Valse Rappelée (an orchestration of one of Rorem's works for cello dating from 1984, and a final Adrift which softly fades into nothingness. This concerto is a worthy addition to repertory for the instrument. Both concertos are splendidly played and beautifully recorded.
Vernon Dukelsky was born in Russia in 1903 and studied with Reinhold Gliere at the Kiev Conservatory. A fellow student was Prokofiev who became a lifelong friend and mentor. In 1922, Dukelsky came to New York and became associated with some notable figures on the musical scene including George Gershwin who suggested he shorten his last name to "Duke." After hearing some of the young composer's piano works, Arthur Rubinstein suggested he compose for him "a one-movement piano concerto, pianistically grateful and not too cerebral," which resulted in the work heard on this CD, which never was orchestrated by the composer, nor performed during his lifetime. Although Rubinstein expressed some interest in the concerto, nothing came of it. In 1998, American pianist/conductor Scott Dunn orchestrated the concerto and played the premiere January 10, 1999 in Carnegie Hall with the American Composers Orchestra conducted by Dennis Russell Davies. It's easy to understand Rubinstein's lack of enthusiasm; this 18-minute concerto doesn't amount to much. However, Duke's Cello Concerto composed in 1945 is of considerably more substance and interest although hardly an unjustly neglected masterpiece. This was commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky and Gregor Piatigorsky who gave the premiere in January 1947 in Boston's Symphony Hall. Piatigorsky also performed the work with other orchestras at the time, but the concerto was neglected after that. This 3-movement 27-minute concerto is a work with plenty of opportunity for the soloist for virtuoso display. Performances on this CD are outstanding; Scott Dunn does what can be done with the piano concerto, and Sam Magill gives a masterful reading of the cello concerto. The disk is filled out with a short suite for solo piano, Homage to Boston, written at the same time as the cello concerto, with 7 short movements each with descriptive titles, one of which is a charming gavotte parody of Prokofiev.
The next two Naxos issues listed above are of less interest to me. Stephen Hartke's The Greater Good had its premiere in the summer of 2006 at the Glimmerglass Opera at which time this recording was made. Hartke wrote the libretto is based on a story by Guy de Maupassant about an overweight prostitute (Boule de Suf) who, in order to save those around her, sleeps with the Prussian Commandant. There's not much melodic going on and usually characters are making a declamation. Although it is in English, little can be understood and there is no libretto, although there is a track-by-track summary (there are 84 tracks on the 2 CDs!). However, those interested can find the complete English libretto on the Naxos WEBSITE Sonic quality is superb; Producer Blanton Alspaugh was nominated for a Grammy as Classical Producer of the Year for this recording.
Wisconsin-born Gloria Coates (October 10, 1938), a major figure on the contemporary music scene, has lived in Europe for many years. Her teachers include Alexander Tcherepnin, Otto Luening, and Jack Beeson. Much of her writing utilizes slow glissandos, producing a rather mysterious effect, and often Coates' music sounds like Alan Hovhaness on an unhappy day. The earliest work on this disk is Canta da Requiem written in 1972, originally was called Voices of Women in Wartime. Transitions dates from 1984, a chamber work later rewritten as her Symphony No. 4. In this, as other works on this disk, the mood is ominous, harsh and challenging. Symphony No. 15 is dark indeed, and curiously called "Homage to Mozart." This is not music I'd care to listen to often, but it is good that admirers of the contemporary music scene now have the opportunity to experience it. You can be very sure that Gloria will never be confused with Eric!
After hearing the Gloria Coates CD, the issue of two major concertos of Miklos Rózsa was pure balm. The violin concerto was written in 1952 for Jascha Heifetz who insisted there be many changes, and he finally played the premiere in 1956—and his RCA recording with the Dallas Symphony conducted by Walter Hendl is still in the catalog. The concerto is highly melodic, filled with wonderful tunes, richly orchestrated. Things got even worse in the relationship between Rózsa and Heifetz with the Sinfonia Concertante, suggested by Gregor Piatigorsky as a double concerto for him and Heifetz. Heifetz didn't feel the violin part was big enough and insisted on many changes and even then would only play the revised version of the second movement, a theme and variations, which he even recorded—but he and Piatigorsky never played the complete work. The new Naxos recording is absolutely stunning in every way. Anastasia Khitruk is an astounding violinist and tosses off the difficulties of the concerto with remarkable ease. And she is matched in every way by cellist Andrey Tchekmazov in the Sinfonia. Dmitry Yablonsky and the superb Russian orchestra could not be bettered, and sonically this CD is state-of-the-art. Totally recommended!
R.E.B. (January 2008)