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SOUNDS OF AMERICA

Oedipus Tyrannus is a model of descriptive writing, and a similar command of atmosphere and poetic possibility fills the pages of Poseidon and Amphitrite, which is subtitled An Ocean Fantasy.

Falletta shapes each score with a fine sense of pacing and balance, making sure that the intimate aspects of Paine’s art receive as much attention as its majestic sonorities. The playing of the Ulster Orchestra is at turns refined and robust. Donald Rosenberg

R Paterson  Eternal Reflections. A New Eaarth – Choral Suite. Lux aeterna. The Essence of Gravity. Snow Day. Did you hear?. Life is but a Dream. A Dream Within a Dream Musica Sacra / Kent Tritle  American Modern Recordings F AMR1040 (75’ • DDD)

Robert Paterson could probably set a telephone book to music and create something that captivates. Luckily, he chooses much better texts, as can be heard on this beguiling disc of the American composer’s choral music performed by Musica Sacra, the New York-based chorus. The settings range from serious ruminations on life, death, religion, war and nature to lighter fare exploring dreams and teenage attitudes.

Eternal Reflections, which gives the disc its title, reveals Paterson’s ability to treat words with utmost clarity and send them soaring or engaging in deft choral conversation. The writing is tonal but never predictably so, with subtle touches of dissonance to colour the atmospheres and emotions.

Paterson evokes the motion of sea and aura of nature in the Choral Suite from A New Eaarth [sic], four movements of affecting and beautiful sonic layers, and the only work on the disc with piano accompaniment. Elsewhere, Paterson embraces word-painting (sounds of guns and machines in The Essence of Gravity); depicts the bright, conflicted chatter of teenagers (to David Cote’s texts in Snow Day and the rumour-laden Did you hear?); tweaks a beloved nursery rhyme (Life is but a Dream); and transforms a Poe poem to rapturous effect (A Dream Within a Dream).

As shaped by Music Director Kent Tritle, the myriad hues, lyricism and nobility in Paterson’s music emerge in all their splendour. The choristers of Musica Sacra lift their lines from the page, bringing passionate and lucid life to the varied challenges. Donald Rosenberg

Rochberg  ‘Complete Flute Music, Vol 1’ Caprice Variations. Slow Fires of Autumn (Ukiyo‑e II)a. Between Two Worlds (Ukiyo‑e III)b Christina Jennings fl  a June Han hp bLura Johnson pf  Naxos American Classics B 8 559776 (59’ • DDD)

This first of two volumes devoted to Rochberg’s music for flute pays homage to a composer who represents an important source of America’s deep musical roots. In producing the disc, flautist Christina Jennings also acknowledges her father Andrew, second violinist of the Concord String Quartet, for whom Rochberg in 1971 wrote his radically conservative, game-changing Third Quartet.

Jennings’s playing of 21 transcriptions from Rochberg’s 50 Caprice Variations for solo violin, based on Paganini’s 24th Caprice and written in 1970, is a less edgy, more conventionally seductive experience than the originals. Jennings mentions eight composers as being referenced, including Bach, Mahler, Bartók and Schoenberg, but leaves out one I hear, Saint-Saëns. Written a decade later, the two Ukiyo‑e pieces, which ‘grew out’ of a harp piece inspired by Japanese woodblock illustrations, are formal, abstract and pleasing affairs. The piano plays a minor role in Between Two Worlds but the harp plays a prominent one in Slow Fires of Autumn, a striking adventure in which Jennings and June Han make music that is rich with accents of koto and shakuhachi. In concert, Jennings fades to silence in Slow Fires ‘while spinning around’; even without the visuals, the effect is stunning. The recording, made at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City, is miked just right to catch Jennings’s multicoloured nuances of tone and phrase. Laurence Vittes

‘The Ground   Beneath Our Feet’  JS Bach Concerto for Violin and Oboe, BWV1060R Jacobsen/Aghaei Concerto for Santur and Violin Reich Duet The Knights …The Ground Beneath Our Feet Stravinsky Dumbarton Oaks The Knights  Warner Classics F 2564 61709-8 (75’ • DDD)

Enterprising programming is a hallmark of The Knights, the orchestral collective based in Brooklyn, New York; ‘The Ground Beneath Our Feet’ explores various aspects of the concerto grosso. All of the music hails from the 20th or 21st century, except for Bach’s Concerto for violin and oboe. You can feel the collaborative energy, especially in the works that end the disc: the Concerto for santur, violin and orchestra by Knights co-founder Colin Jacobsen and Iranian composer Siamak Aghaei, and …The Ground Beneath Our Feet, written by ensemble members. The concerto is full of hypnotic and vivacious Middle Eastern references and deft interaction between violin (Jacobsen) and santur, a hammered dulcimer (Aghaei). The musical sources in …The Ground Beneath Our Feet, with its repeated bass on the Ciaccona by Tarquinio Merula, range from jazz and salsa to raga and reels. It’s an infectious concoction, played with zesty abandon.

The recording was made during live concerts at Dumbarton Oaks, the estate in Washington DC where Stravinsky’s eponymous concerto received its premiere in 1937 under Nadia Boulanger. It’s an ideal work for a conductorless ensemble of keen rhythmic instincts and virtuoso flair, which The Knights possess in abundance. They also bring cohesive vibrancy to Steve Reich’s Duet for two violins and strings, with Ariana Kim and Guillaume Pirard as soloists, and stylish buoyancy and lyricism to the Bach concerto, in which violinist Johnny Gandelsmann and oboist Adam Hollander do the honours. Donald Rosenberg

‘Powerhouse Pianists II’  Adams Hallelujah Junction Childs Kilter Corigliano Chiaroscuro Harberg Tenement Rhapsody – Subway Opel Dilukkenjon Paterson Deep Blue Ocean Rzewski Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues Stephen Gosling, Blair McMillen pfs  American Modern Recordings F AMR1039 (70’ • DDD)

It’s taken five years to release this 2010 studio recording of a new music programme that I heard Stephen Gosling and Blair McMillen play live in New York – see my gramophone.co.uk

GRAMOPHONE JULY 2015 V