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A Sesquicentennial Music Tribute - One Hundred and Fifty
Robert CUNDICK (b.1926) Overture for a Celebration [5.46]; To Utah [23.20]
Leroy J. ROBERTSON (1896-1971) American Serenade (1945) [17.44]
Janice Kapp PERRY The Little Handcart [3.24]; Our Utah Pioneers [1.33]
Arthur SHEPHERD
(1880-1978) From a Mountain Lake (1926) [5.35]; Gigue Fantastique (1931) [4.08]
Crawford GATES (b.1921) Pentameron - Reflections on the Trek (1992) [31.21]
Grant Johannesen (piano)
Choir - unidentified
Utah Chamber Artists/Barlow Bradford
Utah Symphony/Crawford Gates
rec. live Sesquicentennial Musical Tribute concert, 15 August 1997, Maurice Abravanel Hall, Salt Lake City, Utah, DDD
UTAH FAMILIES FOUNDATION SMT 01-02 [2CDs: 46.50+45.34]

Here is an hour and a half of 20th century music that articulates a cultural voice quite distinct from the syncopation and razzle of New York, the latino or bluesy rasp of the South or the mystical-meditative sway of the Californians. These Utahn composers write accessibly, brightly and with engaging sincerity. I am sure there must be some Salt Lake City composers who operate at the avant-garde. In any event they are not represented here though Shepherd did not always write as romantically as this. They are all, in any event, well worth hearing.

Cundick's flat-out overture, brimming with vitality, occupies the same sanguine territory as Howard Ferguson's Overture for an Occasion, Moeran's Overture to a Masque, Chagrin's Helter-Skelter and Foulds' Le Cabaret. The light concert overture is alive and well in Utah and this work can stand as a modern equivalent of the same genre we normally associate with Rezniček, Suppé and Smetana. I detected no specifically American gestures so I would not group it with Bernstein's Candide or Schuman's American Festival Overture.

After the overture comes that virtuoso work by Leroy Robertson - the American Serenade for strings - originally for string quartet. Abravanel premiered the string orchestra version in 1957 and it works very well in that instrumentation in much the same vein as the Wirén and Larsson string serenades and the Elgar Introduction and Allegro. There is meant to be a prairie Western element to this but it is not at all assertive unlike in Roy Harris's Folksong Symphony (by the way this was recorded for EMI by the Utah Symphony with Abravanel conducting). The Utah Symphony make a very fair showing but the mind's ear can imagine an even more virtuoso effort and the violin tone is not quite the luxury article we might have hoped for.

However the choral singing in Cundick's contemplative To Utah is beyond adverse criticism - a smooth blend, perfect coordination and intonation and a reverential concentration. The music is very close to the choral Vaughan Williams of Dona Nobis Pacem and of Bax's Mater Ora Filium. There is much delicate reflection in this work and little of the monumental - witness the surprising whisper-singing of General Albert Sidney Johnson Marches through Salt Lake City. The Expansion movement is a superb piece of writing for both chorus and orchestra which really captures the horizon-challenging confidence and expansion of the Mormon pioneers. It is a pity that the seven parts of this work were not separately tracked.

The Little Handcart by Janice Kapp Perry to words by Senator Orrin Hatch is touchingly sentimental and is bound to bring a lump to the throat with its simple story of the little boy who died in the great 1847 trek of the Mormon pioneers to Utah. It is rounded to perfection by the solo oboe's farewell - a tribute to Barlow Bradford's arranging skills which guide us through Rutter-Finzi territory. I had to play this again the moment the disc had ended. The same team produce the march-hymn Our Utah Pioneers with its echoes of Onward Christian Soldiers and Scandinavian choral singing.

Grant Johanessen then plays two piano solos by Arthur Shepherd. The first is an impressionistic piece close to the nature portrayals of Moeran and John Ireland. It celebrates Lake Placid in upstate New York but this highly attractive tableau, with a dusting of Medtner-like gestures, can safely be enjoyed by anyone who likes RVW's Lake in the Woods or Bax's Moy Mell. Gigue Fantastique dates from 1931. It has outdoor élan - that countryside freshness that also abounds in Shepherd's Mountain Lake. These two pieces make me hope that Johanessen will treat us to a generous collection (or two) of the solo piano music of Utahn composers.

The music of Crawford Gates, whose Horn Sonata so impressed me (see review of Tantara Records disc) is always worth hearing. He comes up with a most original concept in the unconventional piano concerto Pentameron. This traces the journey of the three thousand Saints from their flight from the violence of Nauvoo to the winter and mud of Iowa to the homecoming uplands of But in our hearts - faith and joy triumph. The music has the character of Moeran's Rhapsody No. 3 for piano and orchestra with a touch of the enigmatic in Bax's Symphonic Variations. There is no overt jazz influence rather the triangulation points are Ravel and Constant Lambert in addition to the Brits mentioned above. Once again a pity that this work is given in a single track and not separated into the five episodes.

There are very few coughs, by the way; a tribute to Utah's climate and to the concentration induced by this always endearingly impressive music. Highlights: the Cundick choral piece, Gates' discursive and statuesque Pentameron and the superb performances of the two Shepherd solos. I would now very much like to hear Shepherd's orchestral Horizons (1927), the violin sonata (1920), the second piano sonata (1930) and the Triptych for soprano and string quartet (1925). I have already sung Robertson's praises and we must hope also for recordings of his Trilogy, his two symphonies, cello concerto and the reissue of Vanguard recordings of his superb violin concerto and the powerful Hansonian oratorio From the Book of Mormon.

The notes are exemplary and highly detailed.

An attractive anthology drawing on the undemonstrative conservative melodic-romantic tradition but doing so with subtlety and imagination.

Rob Barnett



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