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Nicholas FLAGELLO (1928-1994)
Missa Sinfonica
(1957) [34:37]
Arnold ROSNER (b. 1945)
Symphony No. 5 ‘Missa sine Cantoribus super Salve Regina’ Op. 57 (1973) [40:08]
National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/John McLaughlin Williams
rec. Large Concert Studio, National Radio Company of Ukraine (Kiev), 14-18 June 2006. DDD
Notes by Walter Simmons and Arnold Rosner
NAXOS 8.559347 [74:45]
Experience Classicsonline

The symphonies on this disc are both by New York composers who went against the atonal tide and both were written early on in their composers’ careers. But the real point of concurrence is that they are both masses for orchestra without chorus. Each is in five movements that correspond to the five sections of the Ordinary of the mass. Each is in its own way influenced by the emotions inherent in each section of the mass as well as using actual plainchant as the musical material from which the work is fashioned.
While Flagello’s symphony is full of deep feeling not all of its movements correspond to what one might think of as regards the term “mass”. The opening of the symphony is dark and almost despairing - appropriate to asking for mercy. The movement is developed sequentially, rather along the lines of the Hanson “Requiem” Symphony. But the second movement (Gloria) is scherzo-like and even playful, with a delicate “trio” and almost cinematic return of the opening material. This recurring cinematic aspect is one of the main drawbacks of the entire work. The third movement is a return to the mood of the first with the plainchant material developed in a hymn-like manner leading to an impressive climax. Like the second movement the fourth is in the manner of a scherzo, but this time it is more mysterious, almost a continuous proclamation of the Holy, Holy, Holy”. The last movement is definitely the most beautiful and the most original. It ends the symphony in a definitive fashion and points to where the composer would go in the future.
Arnold Rosner’s Symphony No. 5 adds another element to the idea of a symphonic mass based on plainchant: the musico-historic. His symphony is a homage to the procedures and styles of the polyphonic composers he greatly admires. In his first movement development is not as central as it is in the Flagello work - archaic qualities, forward motion and modality are important. The second movement is something of a rondo in which a phrase from the original plainchant is hammered home repeatedly. The Credo third movement is extremely attractive, like that in the Flagello and most mirrors the music of the golden age of polyphony, but it is the fourth movement that really struck home with me: the opening is lovely and the material returns several times, each time more beautifully treated than before, leading to a triumphant coda. By contrast, the last movement unfolds organically, though with equally beautiful treatment of the plainchant before ending quietly.
John McLaughlin Williams here turns in two of his best performances on Naxos. While his affinity for American music is a given he really enters into the individual sound-world of each composer on this disc. In addition, he draws quite subtle performances from the Kiev players, who excel themselves, and he is aided by his international cast of producers and engineers. The authoritative notes are by Rosner himself and by long-time Flagello proponent Walter Simmons. In all, a labor of love from all concerned.

William Kreindler
see also reviews by Rob Barnett and Jonathan Woolf


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