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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Ned ROREM (b.1923)
End of Summer for clarinet, violin and piano (1985) [19.54]
Book of Hours for flute and harp (1975) [18.39]
Bright Music for chamber ensemble (1987) [21.18]
The Fibonacci Sequence
Rec. 26-28 Oct 2001 Potton Hall, Suffolk, England
NAXOS 8.559128 [59.59]



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Rorem has always seemed to me something of a hothouse plant musically speaking - echoed in more recent times by the music of Aaron J Kernis. I was instantly drawn to Rorem in 1971 by his orchestral piece Lions (still an outstanding piece of surreal impressionism caught up in upheaval) and later by his Eagles, Sun, Sky Music and Sunday Morning - pieces with marginally less sensuous parallels with the single movement orchestral ‘scenas’ by William Mathias (Vistas, Laudi, Helios). His Third Symphony (recorded on Turnabout) made for more opaque going and still strikes me as a problematic piece. His first two symphonies are more approachable. Since then his songs have been favoured by the big companies amongst which I must include Naxos.

This valuable collection of his chamber music is of comparatively recent vintage. End of Summer is a phantasmagoria of a piece with two outer movements projecting a hail of Paganinian brands and sparks, flurries of molten shards and flame. The music at white heat bears resemblances to the scorching virtuosity of the William Schuman Violin Concerto. This is music touched with but not subdued by the avant-garde school. As if to prove it the central movement and the heart of the Mazurka finale is smoothly lyrical - Barber by way of Finzi; Bax by way of Howells, Alwyn by way of Delius. Certainly if you like the clarinet sonatas of John Ireland, William Alwyn and Arnold Bax there is much that you will like here. Disconcertingly but not disagreeably there seems to be woven into this music elements of Chopin and Mozart. Back ten years and in Book of Hours Rorem is to be found closer to the refractory mill of the then modernity. Even so he keeps in intimate touch with the lyrical lode and the ‘high midsummer pomps’. Despite the monastic titles for the movements (Matins, Lauds, Vespers, Compline etc) the music tends towards Gallic sensuality, passerine song and unbridled display rather than spiritual abnegation. The eight movements are as short as 0.40 or as long as 4.04. Even across so much potential for fragmentation the piece retains a mood-coherent warmth and lambency. Bright Music is a suite for flute, two violins, cello and piano. The piece is in five movements: a waspish virtuosic fury of a Fandango interrupted by a heurigen-melodie of a song, a warmly washing pavane-like Pierrot and Another Dream, a desperate perpetuum mobile of Dance-Song-Dance and the similarly furious finale called simply Chopin. Rorem’s stays in Paris, Morocco and again in Paris from 1949 to 1957 left him with a fluency in the French language as well as the qualities we ikonically associate with the French (or I should say Parisian) influence: fastidious elegance and lucidity of expression.

Production values are high and consistently so across performances, recording quality and documentation. Those who love the Ravel Introduction and Allegro, the Ropartz triptych and Baxs’ Nonet should lose no time in tracking down this disc. Expect those voices to be moderated by the warmth of Samuel Barber (Summer Music and Knoxville) but ruffled from time to time (not half as often as you might expect) by the searing cinders of William Schuman. Go for it!

Rob Barnett



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