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If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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William BOLCOM (b. 1938)
Violin Concerto in D (1983) [23:21]
Fantasia Concertante for viola, violoncello and orchestra (1985) [15:03]
Symphony No. 5 (1989) [22:48]
Sergiu Luca (violin)
Janet Lyman Hill (viola); Eugene Moye (cello)
American Composers Orchestra/Dennis Russell Davies
rec. New York State University Performing Arts Center, October 1990. DDD
Licensed from Decca - first released in 1992 as Argo 433 077-2ZH.
PHOENIX PHCD164 [55:04]
 


Seattle-born Bolcom is a dynamo of a creative force. To our and his benefit he has in recent years had many of his works recorded. There are eight symphonies written between 1957 and the present day. In addition his catalogue comprises eleven string quartets, four violin sonatas (all on Naxos - see review), three operas, musical theatre pieces, two film scores (Hester Street and Illuminata) and much else.
 
Much as they have with Kernis (see review), Phoenix have struck a deal with Decca Argo to re-release the present grievously missed disc of 1980s orchestral works first issued on Argo in the 1990s.
 
Bolcom’s music is laid out with wonderful aural clarity – a delight to the ear. The ideas draw on popular music in much the same way as Piston (Symphony 2 and Incredible Flautist) and Barber (Souvenirs). As we know from his Songs of Innocence and of Experience (Naxos - see review) he has no aversion towards hybridising all branches of modern culture with ‘high art’. This can also be heard in the wonderfully saturated sentimental smoochiness of much of the Violin Concerto where Sergiu Luca’s style recalls that of Joe Venuti and Stéphane Grappelli. Despite this ham-fisted description much of the music evokes an ethereal ballet – Ravel’s La Valse drifts into focus several times before falling away. The ear-tickling Fantasia Concertante is a drier piece with gusts, gentler asides and rhythmic ebullience reminiscent of Beethoven; it was after all premiered in Vienna in 1986. The Fifth Symphony was first performed by Dennis Russell Davies and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1990. Across four movements this is a work that breasts dissonant storms, does a groaningly spectral Frère Jacques with Here Comes the Bride, continues the macabre strain with a bleakly haunted Hymne à l’Amour and in its finale Machine rises to a thuddingly propulsive ruthlessness that recalls both Mussorgsky and Panufnik. It is a superb work.
 
The disc benefits from the composer’s own notes and updated artist profiles.
 
If you’ve caught the Bolcom bug do confirm the addiction with this nicely varied collection and let’s thank Phoenix for rescuing yet another Argo deletion.
 
Rob Barnett
 

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Bolcom’s Symphonies

Symphony No. 1 (1957) 18'
Premiere: Aspen Festival Orchestra, Carl Eberl conducting, July, 1957
 
Symphony No. 2 (Oracles) (1964) 16' (MS)
Premiere: Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Milton Katims conducting, 1965
 
Symphony No. 3 (1979) 35'
Premiere: St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Dennis Russell Davies conducting, September 15, 1979
 
Fourth Symphony "The Rose" by Theodore Roethke (1986) 35'
Premiere: Joan Morris, mezzo-soprano, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin conducting, March 13, 1987
 
Fifth Symphony (1989) 24'
Premiere: The Philadelphia Orchestra, Dennis Russell Davies conducting, January 11, 1990
 
Sixth Symphony (1996-97) 25'
Premiere: National Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin conducting, February 26, 1998
 
Seventh Symphony: A Symphonic Concerto, premiered by The MET Orchestra conducted by James Levine at Carnegie Hall/New York on May 19, 2002; also performed by the Munich Philharmonic under Levine in early June 2003. conducted by Patrick Gardner. Available on Ethereal Recordings
 
Eighth Symphony commissioned for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by James Levine and planned for Boston in February 2008.

 



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