Reviews Sounds of America
Reviews Pulitzer Prize-winners • Brilliant Beethoven from Canada • Copland’s original Quiet City
Actor Saxophone Concerto ac . Dance Rhapsody a . Horn Concerto ad . Opening Remarks b . Celebration Overture a c Debra Richtmeyer alto sax d Karol Nitran hn a Slovak National Symphony Orchestra; b Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra / Kirk Trevor Navona F NV5848 (70’ • DDD) Actor by name, composer (and software engineer) by profession
With his Saxophone Concerto, composer Lee Actor (b1952) leads with his strong suit. Actor, by professional turns a musician and software engineer, returned to music in 2001 as assistant conductor (later composer-inresidence) of the Palo Alto Philharmonic, which does explain the consistent level of orchestrational prowess throughout this collection. Instruments, whether solo or in multiples, are always placed in their best light. But the fact that his Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra successfully exploits the technique and timbral possibilities of the instrument without once drawing from the vocabulary of jazz is a testament to his ability to avoid cliché.
This is not to belittle Actor’s Horn Concerto, or the two concert openers that, ironically enough, bring the collection to a close. Opening Remarks spins nearly six minutes of invention from its opening measures, while Celebration Overture unfolds from its opening fanfare into a series of vivid vignettes rather like Elgar or Holst in miniature. Under Kirk Trevor, the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra and National Symphony Orchestra match Actor’s attention to rhythm with appropriate propulsion, particularly in the composer’s Latin-tinged Dance Rhapsody.
If anything is lacking in these works, in fact, it is a sense of thematic development. Faced with a choice of expanding on an initial point or morphing into a new thought entirely, Actor generally chooses the latter. But compared with the rewards of discovering two thoroughly listenable concertos for under-represented instruments (rendered superbly here by saxophonist Debra
Richtmeyer and horn player Karol Nitran respectively), complaints of thematic attention deficit won’t register for very long. Ken Smith
Brahms Violin Sonatas – No 1, Op 78; No 2, Op 100; No 3, Op 108 Zina Schiff vn Cameron Grant pf MSR Classics M MS1339 (69’ • DDD) Intimacy and a singing quality in Brahms’s passionate violin sonatas
Brahms wrote no works more personal than his three sonatas for violin and piano. At once lyrical and impassioned, these pieces represent a composer in the throes of love (privately, for Clara Schumann) or enraptured by the natural beauty of the places where the music took shape.
In their new recording of the sonatas, violinist Zina Schiff and pianist Cameron Grant emphasise the subtle poetry that pervades these scores. It could be tempting, given the richness of Brahms’s writing, for interpreters to overstress the dramatic implications in the music. But Schiff and Grant appear to be uninterested in placing themselves as indulgent characters in a series of intensely driven narratives.
That’s not the essential nature of these masterpieces, in any case, and the players do their utmost to stress the warmth and intimacy that Brahms often summoned as he transformed his own songs or folk tunes into something new and transcendent. The Sonata No 1 in G major, Op 78, is the most touching in this respect, both in compositional and performance terms, and Schiff and Grant inhabit the work’s expressive corners with seamless interplay and scrupulous attention to nuances.
It is a glorious performance that is seconded in the other sonatas. Where some musicians dig into the most urgent writing with virtuoso-like abandon, Schiff and Grant apply singing qualities to every phrase, even at climactic moments that could easily come across as overheated rather than – as here – aristocratic resolutions. Donald Rosenberg
‘Dancing in the Isles’ Byrd/Farnaby/R Johnson An English Court Masque Locke Suite No 4 Matteis Ayres Oswald Sonata on Scots Tunes Purcell Three Parts upon a Ground, Z731 Veracini Sonata, Op 2 No 9 – Scozzese Traditional Five English Country Dances (arr Musica Pacifica). Five Irish Tunes. Five Scots Tunes (both arr Blumenstock) Musica Pacifica (Judith Linsenberg recs/whistle Elizabeth Blumenstock, Robert Mealy vns David Morris vc/va da gamba Peter Maund perc Charles Weaver theo/ gtr Charles Sherman hpd) Solimar F SOLIMAR101 (75’ • DDD) California players pay a zesty and captivating visit to the British Isles
Baroque ensembles have been exploring more than what might be termed “concert” repertoire in recent decades. With their historical performance caps neatly in place, early music practitioners have also delved into popular fare of the 16th through 18th centuries that has helped them expand their audiences. Musica Pacifica’s new disc, “Dancing in the Isles”, is among the zestiest recordings of recent vintage to present works that once had them dancing – if not necessarily in the aisles – and listening with joy.
The programme ventures through England, Ireland and Scotland, making stops to take up folk ballads, country tunes and the occasional concert piece with roots in traditional music. A number of the selections are arrangements by members of Musica Pacifica who leave colleagues ample room to kick up their improvisational heels.
Much of the dance activity, indeed, is on the rousing side, with all sorts of propulsive instrumental flights to keep the musicians boisterously engaged. But the menu also includes tender ditties from the heartlands, violin “ayres” (by Nicola Matteis, who became a virtuoso toast of London) and even Henry Purcell’s great Three Parts upon a Ground, with feet planted in the chaconne.
To all of this fare, the California-based players of Musica Pacifica apply equal degrees of grace, rhythmic energy and flavourful inflection. Judith Linsenberg is especially charismatic on recorders and whistle. The violinists, Elizabeth www.gramophone.co.uk
GRAMOPHONE AWARDS 2011 IX