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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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James YANNATOS
Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra (1995) [24.08]
Prisms Symphony No. 3 (1989) [17.21]
Walter PISTON

Symphony No. 3 (1947) [32.07]
Mendelssohn String Quartet
Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra/James Yannatos
rec. 31 Oct 1998 (Prisms); 1 Nov 1997 (Concerto); 5 March 1999 (Piston) DDD
ALBANY TROY 400 [73.37]

Two works by James Yannatos frame this recording of Piston's Third Symphony. Yannatos is a resident of NYC who studied at the High School of Music and Art and Manhattan School of Music. His more advanced studies were with Hindemith, Milhaud and Boulanger. He studied conducting with Bernstein and Steinberg. He has been director of this orchestra since 1964. His Concerto for String Quartet is in three movements played without break. He is another modern apostle of the lyrical in music with the language broadly taking in a decidedly Tippett-like ecstasy (Triple Concerto and Corelli Fantasia), Schnittke's complexity, Bachian fantasy and the sort of poetry at the heart of the less athletic moments in Elgar's Introduction and Allegro. Much to enjoy here - a lovely touch as the chaffing violin solo is picked up by the tinking bell in the work's farewell. Yannatos's Third Symphony is in four movements, again played without pause, but here tracked individually as with the Quartet Concerto. Once again the work seethes with that piercing and swooning nostalgia we know from Tippett but with the brakes off as it were. The echoes are quite striking without being at all plagiaristic or off-putting. There is a real sincerity radiating from this very fine music. On the evidence of these two works Yannatos's first love is for the strings of the orchestra for which he writes with a poignant eloquence.

The Piston Symphony followed the incomparable Second after a pause of eight years. During that time the composer had found a more severe persona although the tendrils of his singing voice are still partially evident. There are four movements (slow - fast - slow - fast) and the slow movemetns are about twice as long as the fast ones: roughly 10 mins-5-10-5. The opening andantino and the third movement adagio do not relax much at all. They are rather grey and unrelieved ... perhaps a little like a rather stolid Rubbra adagio. The first allegro is jerky as is the second one which remains academically patterned and earth-bound despite some humour. They lack the jazzy delight of the finale of the Second Symphony. The symphony was written in memory of Natalie Koussevitsky. It represents a dip in the Piston symphonic outline.

These are very fine recordings taken from live concert performances without any obvious fluffs or intrusive audience participation.

Rob Barnett



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