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American Tapestry
Leo KRAFT (b. 1922)
L’Unicorno (2003)a [10:02]
Hilary TANN (b. 1947)
Water’s Edge (1993)
Harold SCHIFFMAN (b. 1928)
Concertino for Oboe and Chamber Orchestra (1977)b [13:15]
Mark ALBURGER (b. 1957)
Symphony No.1 in C major Op.21 (2000) [22:21]
David Jolley (horn)a; William Meredith (oboe)b
The North/South Chamber Orchestra/Max Lifchitz
rec. LeFrak Auditorium of the Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College, CUNY, January 2004 (Kraft, Tann) and Recital Hall of the Purchase College of Performing Arts Center, Purchase, NY, January 2004 (Schiffman, Alburger)

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Leo Kraft’s L’Unicorno is a miniature horn concerto exploiting the various facets of the horn’s expressive range. It is cast in a single movement in five interlinked sections of different character. The music is well-crafted and provides for some virtuosity display, both in the horn part and in the brilliant writing for strings. Fairly traditional stuff, it is by 20th century standards, accessible and enjoyable, especially as played here with enthusiasm and immaculate technique by the work’s dedicatee. By the way, Leo Kraft should not be confused with his contemporary fellow composer William Kraft (b. 1923).

It is always good to hear some of Welsh-born Hilary Tann’s music, which should definitely be heard and recorded more often. Water’s Edge was originally written as a piano duet for advanced students. The transcription for strings was first performed by the Presteigne Festival Orchestra conducted by George Vass. It is in three short movements, “each of which may be performed separately”. The impact of the piece is much greater and the whole more satisfying if played complete as it is here. The music sometimes reminded me of Britten and also of Grace Williams’ magnificent Sea Sketches - a favourite of mine. It is splendidly written for strings, and beautifully atmospheric without being programmatic or descriptive. A marvellous short work for strings that deserves wider exposure.

Harold Schiffman has already been well served by North/South Recordings, and I have been able to review several discs of his music. His Concertino for Oboe and Chamber Orchestra, scored for string quintet, flute, clarinet, bassoon and horn, is in three short movements of broadly equal length, the music of which is mostly based on the opening cadenza-like passage for the oboe. Two lively outer movements frame a nocturnal slow centre-piece. A delightful, light-hearted piece of music; but I suspect that the oboe part must be rather tricky at times.

Symphony No.1 in C major Op.21 is the first of a projected series of nine ‘grid’ symphonies based on corresponding numbered symphonies by older composers”. In this case, the ‘model’ is Beethoven’s First “from which is taken form and spirit (including number of measures, tempo markings, key and even opus number)”. Reading these remarks by the composer before listening to the piece I had some fears about the musical results of what reads like some vain exercise in pastiche or parody. In fact the piece turned out to be quite enjoyable and – more importantly – free from pastiche and parody. The first movement is a bit minimalist with some fine tunes and a dance-like joyfulness, a bit à la Copland or Bernstein. The slow movement is a processional opening with a plainchant-like theme, and “stubbornly contrapuntal” all the way through. This is followed by a Menuetto e Trio that has a dark-hued Trio framed by lively dance-like outer sections, reminiscent of Stravinsky in his Neo-Classical guise. The whole piece is capped by an Adagio/Allegro of great verve revisiting the minimalist sound-world of the opening movement, with Glass still lurking round the corner. No earth-shaking masterpiece, but well-made and enjoyable. Should appeal to all those who enjoyed the symphonies by Philip Glass.

The performances in this typical North/South offering are very fine and for all their stylistic variety - a trademark of North/South’s discs - make for a very enjoyable programme. One of the finest discs that I have heard from this label.

Hubert Culot



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