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A special eight-page section focusing on recent recordings from the US and Canada

Laitman The Apple Orcharda. Dear Ednaa. Fresh Patterns – No 1, It’s all I have to bring todayb; No 2, Letter for Emily Dickinsonc; No 3, Fresh Patternsd. Ludlow – Out of the Rockfolds and I barely remembere; The Wind Sighsf. The Ocean of Eternityg. Vedem Songs – Fiveh; Just a little warmthh; Memories of Praguea; Thoughtsh. When you are oldi a Nicole Cabell, cdAlisa Jordheim, iMaureen McKay, bd Patrice Michaels, gYungee Rhie sops hKatie Hannigan mez efDaniel Belcher bar gMichael Couper sop sax hTarn Travers vn iLori Laitman, g ChoEun Lee, hTze-Wen (Julia) Lin, abcdef Andrew Rosenblum pf Acis (APL16565 • 63’ • T)

As I noted with her previous Acis release, ‘Are Women People?’ (10/21), Lori

Laitman’s works are often emotional in expression with elements of political or social comment. The excerpted songs from her oratorio Vedem (2010, set in Terezín), and the opera Ludlow (2012, inspired by a massacre of immigrants in the Colorado town in 1914), are eloquent testimony of that side of her creative persona. There is humour aplenty, too, as in the concluding set Dear Edna (2009, rev 2018), four poems taking Edna St Vincent Millay as the core reference point including 21st-century editorial rethinking (in racier terms) of her writings, with a sly quote from Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet along the way. Delicacy and ingenuity combine in the triptych Fresh Patterns (2003, rev 2017), where settings of Emily Dickinson’s ‘It’s all I have to bring today’ and Anne Finch’s ‘Letter for Emily Dickinson’ are combined beautifully in the final ‘Fresh Patterns’. Most delightful of all is ‘The Apple Orchard’ (2004), a melodic gem.

Acis has assembled quite an array of singers and accompanists for this hourlong programme, with Laitman specialists Nicole Cabell, Maureen McKay and the composer’s son, Andrew Rosenblum, featuring most prominently. Laitman herself accompanies McKay in ‘When you are old’ (a setting of WB Yeats, from 2017), and with several performers brought in to perform songs written specifically for them, the whole has the feeling of a gala, just without an audience. The songs were recorded in several locations between 2014 and the early months of lockdown in 2020, though few had to endure the tribulations of the title-work, The Ocean of Eternity (2017, rev 2019). Due to lockdown restrictions during August to October 2020, the three performers – soprano Yungee Rhie, soprano saxophonist Michael Couper and pianist ChoEun Lee – had to record their parts separately on opposite sides of not just the US, but the planet, as Rhie was in Seoul. The differing sound pictures of each recording present no issues in the enjoyment of the songs themselves. Guy Rickards

‘1919 Viola Sonatas’ Bantock Viola Sonata – Vivace Foote Viola Sonata, Op 78a Ryelandt Viola Sonata, Op 73 Soulage Viola Sonata, Op 25 Hillary Herndon va Wei-Chun Bernadette Lo pf MSR Classics (MS1701 • 65’)

For the second Berkshire Festival Competition in 1919, Elizabeth Sprague

Coolidge offered $1000 to the best new work for viola and piano. According to research by David Bynog, there were 72 entries, and after much culling, the judges were deadlocked between Bloch’s Suite and Rebecca Clarke’s Sonata. Coolidge herself broke the tie and the prize was given to Bloch with Clarke as an honourable mention.

But what of the other submissions? Here, we’re given a sampling. The E minor Sonata by Arthur Foote (18531937) has been recorded by Lauren Hodges and Jasmin Arakawa (Centaur), but I’d say that Hillary Herndon and Wei-Chun Bernadette Lo make a more persuasive case for the work’s revival. Foote was usually at his best in lyrical music, and Herndon and Lo give an affectionate caress to the first movement’s lovely second theme (at 2'03") and find a large palette’s worth of delicate colour in the central Andantino con moto – note, for example, the Brahmsian richness of texture and emotion at 2'12".

Foote’s work has its dull moments – the opening section is lacklustre – but I find it far more engaging than the Sonata by the Belgian composer Joseph Ryelandt (1870-1965). That said, I believe the music needs a more fiery performance than Herndon and Lo provide here. Markings such as con passione (at 1'28" in the first movement) go unheeded, and the nocturne-like slow movement comes across as only blandly pretty.

Ryelandt’s invention seems particularly uninspired when heard alongside the Sonata by Marcelle Soulage (1894-1970) – a true gem and a serious discovery. There’s no mention of her in the latest edition of The New Grove Dictionary but Soulage knew her craft. The slippery harmonies in the first movement are somewhat reminiscent of Fauré here and Debussy there, but at the same time they’re utterly idiosyncratic. Similarly, while the sinuously chromatic melodies of the slow movement seem to wander, they never feel aimless – and, thankfully, Herndon and Lo play the entire score with requisite passion. There’s also an oddly militaristic Scherzo and a dancelike finale whose drum-beat rhythms and pentatonicish character unexpectedly suggest a Native American dance.

The recital’s encore is a ‘condensed’ version of the finale of Granville Bantock’s Sonata, and I’m honestly grateful for the concision, for even when snipped, this jig-like movement rather outstays its welcome. The recorded sound isn’t the most flattering to Herndon’s tone – MSR did better by the viola player on a previous release that includes Soulage’s Solo Sonata (1921). But this Sonata for viola and piano is a much stronger work, to my ears, and its rediscovery is what makes this album especially valuable. Andrew Farach-Colton


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