The present release must be a rare example of a VMM disc exclusively
devoted to American composers. The composers featured here seem to share
a common musical approach deeply imbedded, to a varying degree though,
in what may be referred to as "Americana". All four pieces share
the same positive outlook and are all superbly crafted, colourful and
highly communicative in often fairly direct terms.
Moravec’s brilliant dance fantasy Spiritdance
clearly displays these characteristics to the full. This is an engaging
and very attractive piece brimming with freshness and energy. It should
be a popular concert opener, were it played and heard more often.
Ann Silsbee’s Sanctuary is a somewhat
more ambitious and, on the whole, more restrained piece of music though
it has its moments of anger. The composer, however, describes the piece
as "a search for sanctuary ... the universal hope for a
sacred, inviolable place of refuge in these days of war, violence and
genocide". The music is thus generally more reflective and introspective
than in Moravec’s life-celebrating work; and it is a most moving and
deeply felt utterance of great consolatory power.
Jerré Tanner settled in Hawaii in the mid-1960s
and composed a number of pieces inspired by Hawaiian legends such as
his symphonic poem Aukele (available on VMM 3004) or his
operas Ka Lei No Kane, The Naupaka Floret
and The Singing Snails of which the orchestral suite is
recorded here. The straightforward, vividly colourful and melodic music
(often redolent of Copland) betrays the origins of the opera which the
composer describes as his first opera for youth, again based on Hawaiian
myths and folklore. The suite drawn from the opera is in four movements:
a lively, energetic Overture, a beautiful Nocturne (in fact a love duet
in all but the name), a March depicting the angry Snails on their way
to scare off "those evil creatures" (i.e. the lovers from
the preceding movement) and the final number Triumph and Paean to
Dawn which rounds off the suite in sometimes mock-Handelian fashion.
A lovely, straightforward piece of music by all counts.
Larry Bell’s Sacred Symphonies Op.23
is another quintessentially American piece of music drawing on the composer’s
own religious experience "as a Southerner" and paying some
tribute to Charles Ives whose shadow looms large over the first three
movements. The work also draws on an earlier work (Four Sacred
Songs Op.20 for soprano and piano in which Bell sets well-known
hymns to his own music). The four movements, so we are told, represent
atonement, evangelism, suffering and humility. The composer also tells
us that "the symphonic development of the themes of the songs coexists
with a slow-moving version of the songs in a distant tonality"
(the Ives touch mentioned earlier). The final movement Transcendently
is particularly moving and concludes this fine work in appeased serenity.
Sacred Symphonies is one of Bell’s finest works that I
have heard so far.
Some may sometimes criticise VMM releases for being
somewhat mixed affairs bringing together composers from widely different
musical (and geographical) horizons. The present disc, however, is remarkably
consistent in musical terms though each composer featured here has his
or her own approach, which makes this varied disc quite appealing, especially
in such fine performances and recording. A most enjoyable disc well