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North/South Recordings

Larry BELL (b. 1952)
Symphony No.2 Idumea Op.40 (1996)
Song and Dance Op.44 (1996)
Short Symphony for Band Op.47 (1999)a
The Sentimental Muse Op.45 (1997)b
Kathryn Sleeper (bassoon)b; Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra; Jordan Windsa; Joel Suben, William Drurya
Recorded: Concert Hall, Olomuc, Czech Republic, March 2003 and New England Conservatoryís Jordan Hall, Boston MA, March 1999 (Short Symphony)


Over the last few months, I reviewed several recordings of works by Larry Bell. At that time, I remarked that this composerís music was the direct heir of Copland and, as such, presented a sort of present-day Americana. None worst for that, I must say, for he is a composer who wants to communicate in direct terms, regardless of any current trends and fashions. Though fairly traditional, his music approaches the American symphonic tradition in a most refreshing way, which is to my mind his most endearing quality. The four orchestral works here are all fairly recent, and were composed over the years 1996-1999. They confirmed my first impression, although listening to his Second Symphony also brings Virgil Thomson and his popular Symphony on a Hymn Tune to mind. Indeed, Bellís Symphony No.2 "Idumea" Op.40 is based on a Southern hymn tune which runs throughout the symphony, albeit in hugely varied guise. The first movement, a "monothematic sonata form" (the composerís words) mostly based on the hymn tune, is followed by a perky Scherzo. The slow movement Double Variations alternates an original tune and the basic hymn tune, whereas the final movement is a lively rondo.

Song and Dance Op.44, subtitled Divertimento for Chamber Orchestra, is a more relaxed and lighter work indulging in popular dance music. A delightful, unpretentious work to be enjoyed for what it is worth, that could (should) become a popular concert opener.

The very title of the Short Symphony for Band Op.47 obliquely pays some tribute to two works that Bell admittedly admires, viz. Coplandís Short Symphony and Persichettiís Symphony No.6 Op.69 for band. (Persichetti was one of Bellís teachers, Roger Sessions was another.) Again in four short movements, based this time on five madrigals composed in 1996 to texts by Wallace Stevens, this is quite appealing.

The Sentimental Muse Op.45 was commissioned by Kathryn Sleeper who gave the first performance in 1998. The composer tells us that it is mostly based on two melodies. One of them appeared in Bellís set of twelve preludes and fugues for piano Reminiscences and Reflections Op.46 (available on North/South N/S R 1032, to be reviewed shortly) whereas the second is "a little sentimental tune". The first movement, roughly in sonata form, makes play of these tunes, as does the third movement which also briefly glances back at the "sentimental tune". There are not that many successful bassoon concertos around, so Bellís essay is a most welcome addition to the repertoire.

These attractive and enjoyable pieces are all well served by very fine performances and recording. If you are in tune with the American symphonic tradition of Copland, Piston or Thomson, then Larry Bellís superbly crafted music is for you. Anyway, this beautifully produced release is the best possible introduction to his music and may safely be recommended.

Hubert Culot

see also

Larry BELL (born 1952) The Black Cat Op.28 (1987)a Caprice for Solo Cello Op.12 (1978)b Fantasia on an Imaginary Hymn Op.17 (1983/4)c River of Ponds Op.5 (1986)d Robert J. Lurtsema (narrator)a; Sarah Clarke (viola)c; Eric Bartlett (cello)abcd; Larry Bell (piano)ad Recorded: WGBH-FM Radio, Boston, April 1998 (The Black Cat); Unitarian Church, Montclair, NJ, May 1998 (Caprice, Fantasia); SUNY Purchase Recital Hall, Purchase, NJ, May 1998 (River of Ponds) NORTH/SOUTH RECORDINGS R 1018 [69:20] [HC]

Contemporary, though very tuneful and warmly lyrical, and very accessible. A very fine, enjoyable release on all counts.... see Full Review

MUSIC FROM SIX CONTINENTS Ė 1992 SERIES - Paul MORAVEC (born 1957) Spiritdance (1989) - Ann SILSBEE (born 1930) Sanctuary (1991) - Jerré TANNER (born 1939) Suite from The Singing Snails (1986) - Larry BELL (born 1952) Sacred Symphonies Op.23 (1985) Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra of Bratislava/Szymon Kawalla - Recorded: no date, published 1992 VIENNA MODERN MASTERS VMM 3016 [71:29] [HC]

A most enjoyable disc well worth investigating. Ö see Full Review

MUSIC FROM SIX CONTINENTS Ė 1996 SERIES - Thomas M. SLEEPER (born 1956) Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra (1992)a - Margaret Shelton MEIER (born 1936) The Dawning (1994)b - Haydn REEDER (born 1944) Lark 2 (1996) - Larry BELL (born 1952) Piano Concerto Op.33 (1989)c Kathryn Sleeper (bassoon)a; Bozhena Petrova (celesta)b; Larry Bell (piano)c; The Ruse Philharmonic Orchestra, Bulgaria; Tsanko Delibozov, Thomas Sleeper - Recorded: no information available, published 1996 VIENNA MODERN MASTERS VMM 3037 [64:39] [HC]

An interesting disc with two substantial, if uneven works and two shorter, attractive pieces, all in fine performances Ö see Full Review

American Breath - Music for Saxophone: David MASLANKA (born 1943) Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano (1988)a - Larry BELL (born 1952) Mahler in Blue Light Op.43 (1996)b - Russell PETERSON (born 1969) Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Percussion Orchestra (2000)c Russell Peterson (alto saxophone); Diane Tremaine (cello)b; Douglas Schneider (piano)ab; Tri-College Percussion Ensemblec; David Eylerc - Recorded: Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota, July 1999 and October 2000 BARKING DOG RECORDS BDR 2181 [71:40] [HC]

A fairly unusual, though very attractive selection. Ö see Full Review

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