Classical Music classical CDs reviewed New CD reviews every day latest Classical CD releases Buy your CDs of the classics here

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Aspen Concerto*, Rameau Remembered**, In Praise of Ockeghem
Elmar Oliveira (violin)*, Scott Goff (flute)**/Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz
ARTEK AR-0004-2  [57'55"]
Artek recordings

Hugh Aitken is American and supplies his own notes. I wish I could tell you his date of birth but I'll plump for around 1925 given he served in the Second War from 1943 in the Army Air Corps. Composing since his early high school days (when he also studied chemistry), Aitken has devoted himself to music, not only as a composer but also as a professor at the William Paterson University in New Jersey. There he met Gerard Schwarz, then a trumpet player, and wrote him a Quintet for trumpet and string quartet. Their relationship continues with this CD and Schwarz recently conducted the premiere of Aitken's Symphony - which, on the evidence of his music on this CD, I'd very much like to hear.

Artek is a new label to me (distributed in the UK by DI Music). I wish it well of course, but the front cover could be more arresting, the composer's biographical notes should be fuller (a photo would have been nice to complement those of conductor and soloists), recording dates and location should be given, and the recording itself could be better. Despite Adam Stern, Schwarz's regular producer, being at the helm, the Seattle Symphony's strings are presented here as sounding rather parched - more bloom would have been welcome; the bass is a tad indistinct - efforts to improve it only thicken textures to no great advantage. Balance between the soloists and orchestra is pretty good even if Oliveira's violin sounds rather edgy at times and is sometimes a larger-than-life presence, especially when the orchestra is slightly too recessed, which reduces its impact.

I make these points because Aitken's music is well worth hearing - it would be a pity if presentational and auditory concerns precluded a recommendation of the music itself. I hope though that Artek will note my comments.

The titles of two of Aitken's pieces obviously suggest influences from the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. Rameau Remembered is for solo flute with an orchestra of strings (Schwarz remains faithful to antiphonal violins and left-positioned double basses behind the cellos) and a few woodwind instruments, which are sparingly used. 22 minutes of updated Rameau is I think a little too much. Each of the five movements is charming though, Aitken faithful to the originals but adds his signature through what he calls "unexpected harmonic or rhythmic turns". There's nothing offensive in what Aitken does - it's done with affection - and I found the whole very enjoyable, the performance sympathetic and sensitive. In Praise of Ockeghem (for strings) is a sonorous 12-minute piece that uses fragments of Ockeghem's Masses as Hindemith might have arranged them - Mathis der Maler is a strong presence in the meditative opening section.

Hindemith surfaces again at the start of the Aspen Concerto (Aitken's second violin concerto) - British listeners might also think of Alan Rawsthorne. The most recent music here (1989), Aitken's succinct concerto begins with a purposeful, clearly structured opening movement, almost Baroque in its concentration of form - something emphasised perhaps by Aitken again restricting the orchestra to strings; rhythmic patterns and the use of solo orchestral instruments owe something to Bartok's Divertimento

The slow movement is the concerto's heart - soulful, long-lined, it has an emotional core that reminded me of the Passacaglia of Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto. Perhaps the finale doesn't quite 'wrap' the concerto effectively enough. It's a mixture of cadenza and lyrical invention to begin with in which Aitken moves closer to his countryman Samuel Barber in its nostalgic expression; then the rhythmic ingenuities of Aitken's 'twentieth century Baroque' return with an interlude of quiet reminiscence.

I'm delighted to have heard this selection of Aitken's music - it's likeable, well crafted and asks to be heard again. Perhaps Artek will now record Aitken's First Violin Concerto and his new Symphony.




Reviews from previous months

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers : - The UK's Biggest Video Store

Concert and Show tickets


Musicians accessories

Click here to visit

Return to Index