American Orchestral Works / Kalmar, Grant Park Orchestra

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REVIEW:As I have noted in connection with other collections of contemporary music, the problem with programs such as this is that they tend to consist...

REVIEW:

As I have noted in connection with other collections of contemporary music, the problem with programs such as this is that they tend to consist of hits and misses--that is, works of unequal quality or composed in styles that won't appeal similarly to most listeners. This release is an exception, in that each piece is well worth getting to know, and even if you don't like everything, chances are you'll come away satisfied. Barbara Kolb's All in Good Time is a rhythmic study almost devoid of melody, but it's harmonically interesting and brilliantly scored. It makes a fun, bubbly curtain-raiser. Aaron Jay Kernis' Sarabande in Memoriam began life as a string quartet and was enlarged for string orchestra as yet another post-9/11 tribute. Happily, however, the work predates that tragic day by several years, and so neither Kernis' sincerity nor his taste are in question. It's a beautiful work given a grave, intense performance under Carlos Kalmar's sympathetic baton.

Michael Hersch's Ashes of Memory is my favorite work on the disc. It has memorable tunes (its two movements are related), really solid symphonic scoring with impressive, powerful climaxes that at the same time never sound as if they're straining for effect, and an impressively dark, quietly gripping conclusion. The title doesn't exactly help in any meaningful way, but hey, who cares? It's terrific stuff. John Corigliano's Midsummer Fanfare, composed for the Grant Park Orchestra in 2004, presents all of its composer's sonic brilliance and skillful use of avant-garde effects in a way that beguiles rather than offends the ear. Once again, the performance is first rate, no doubt helped by the players' familiarity with the work. So many modern music collections are simply sight-reading exercises, and it shows.

Many listeners will consider John Harbison's Partita for Orchestra to be the program's major work. I have to confess, I don't especially like Harbison's music. I find its dissonant, quasi-tonal style monochromatic, like a study in grey. He often reminds me of an updated William Schuman: a composer with a strong sense of gesture but lacking in thematic memorability. That said, I enjoyed the Partita much more than previous experience suggested I would. It has great variety among its movements, some genuinely memorable ideas, and that rarest of qualities, a discernible sense of humor. I think it's one of the finest things Harbison has done, though only here does the orchestra, especially the strings in the rhythmically tricky final Courante-Gigue, sound a touch stressed. In sum, this collection (as so often with this label) works very well as a diverse program very well-suited to continuous listening, and the engineering is about as good as it gets. Terrific! [7/25/2006]

--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com



Product Description:


  • Release Date: January 01, 2006


  • UPC: 735131909020


  • Catalog Number: CDR 090


  • Label: Cedille


  • Number of Discs: 1


  • Period: Contemporary


  • Composer: Aaron Jay Kernis, Barbara Kolb, John Corigliano, John Harbison, Michael Hersch


  • Conductor: Carlos Kalmar


  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Grant Park Orchestra


  • Performer: Kalmar



Works:


  1. All in Good Time

    Composer: Barbara Kolb

    Ensemble: Grant Park Orchestra

    Conductor: Carlos Kalmar


  2. Sarabanda in Memoriam

    Composer: Aaron Jay Kernis

    Ensemble: Grant Park Orchestra

    Conductor: Carlos Kalmar


  3. Ashes of Memory

    Composer: Michael Hersch

    Ensemble: Grant Park Orchestra

    Conductor: Carlos Kalmar


  4. Midsummer Fanfare

    Composer: John Corigliano

    Ensemble: Grant Park Orchestra

    Conductor: Carlos Kalmar


  5. Partita for Orchestra

    Composer: John Harbison

    Ensemble: Grant Park Orchestra

    Conductor: Carlos Kalmar