Donald Rosenberg reviews Baroque trios from Chicago: ‘The musicians ornament with sensitivity, savour the expressive sophistication and achieve utmost clarity’ REVIEW ON PAGE XI
M Abel The Dream Gallery: Seven California Portraits Mary Jaeb sop Delaney Gibson, Janelle DeStefano mezs Martha Jane Weaver contr Tom Zohar ten David Marshman bar Carver Cossey bass La Brea Sinfonietta / Sharon Lavery Delos F DE3418 (69’ • DDD • T)
sounds of america
Laurence Vittes reviews Drew Minter’s troubadour project: ‘Minter’s extraordinary self-accompanied performances reveal just how potent and vital the art form was’ REVIEW ON PAGE XIII
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Mark Abel with pictures of the Orange County in song At first, Mark Abel’s song‑cycle of first‑person accounts of Californians and California life seems to have harnessed all the right elements from American popular song forms. Vernacular text is set musically with a certain lyrical verve, performed by singers with a full palette of vocal colour at their disposal, who never let a soaring melody get in the way of their enunciation. And, for a while, this collection sounds like Abel is really on to something. None of his West Coast personae would fit comfortably in a true pop‑song format, and the composer nearly succeeds in rendering them in art‑song on purely American terms.
Unfortunately, though, The Dream Gallery wears out its welcome long before the recording is over. Much of the problem lies in the instrumentation, which borrows far too many bad habits from journeyman Broadway orchestrators in puffing up the surface at the expense of the core.
Part of that surely reflects Abel’s work as a studio engineer – when one learns a craft, one tends to use it to the full – but the end result is like an intimate cabaret set that loses its charm on a big‑budget stage. Melodies here never quite sustain the expectation, lyrics never seem quite as profound as they want to be, and these musical portraits, essentially charming in their modesty, become frequently overwhelmed by their frame. Halfway through this collection, you start wishing that Abel had trusted his basic material a little more. Ken Smith
Symphonies – No 6 a ; No 7, ‘A Sea Symphony’ b . Lumen in Christo c
Sharon Lavery and La Brea Sinfonietta recording Mark Abel’s Dream Gallery bc Seattle Chorale; Seattle Symphony Orchestra / Gerard Schwarz Naxos American Classics S 8 559704 (60’ • DDD) From Delos a DE3092 (2/91), b DE3130 (3/93), c DE3160 (5/95)
Naxos’s Hanson reissue project with the Sixth and the Seventh As the Seattle Symphony moves firmly into the Ludovic Morlot era, the days two decades ago when Gerard Schwarz, Delos and Howard Hanson legitimised digital technology seem far away. Having listened to a lot of Hanson in a relatively short time (this review makes four, and with no regrets), I have come to look forward as much to what a modern symphony orchestra and audiophile recording team can do as to worrying about whether the music is fashionable or ‘great’.
Hanson wrote the music on this CD when he was 72, 78 and 81 years of age, and about each he must have felt deeply. The Sixth Symphony was commissioned by the
New York Philharmonic to celebrate its 185th season. Lumen in Christo was commissioned by Nazareth College to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The Seventh Symphony, his last, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Michigan.
In each there is a comfort zone with sharing his privacy, both in the pleasure he takes in his own facility and skill, and in how he uses it to express his faith. They are full of musical cues that the listener is intended to hear, from places like Haydn’s Creation and Handel’s Messiah, and even the famous passages from Hanson’s own Fourth Symphony. There are bold strokes, ominous moods, martial attitudes, gentle epiphanies and hopeful, joyful resolutions.
Adding immeasurably to the musical experience are essays by Steven C Smith and Jim Svejda which alternate stylistically like characters in a Stoppard play; they both persuasively tell the stories behind the music. You might also just want to curl up with Hanson, setting the volume at just below mid‑
GRAMOPHONE JUNE 2012 IX