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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Ned ROREM (b. 1923)
Symphony No. 1 (1950) [24:10]
Symphony No. 2 (1956) [22:18]
Symphony No. 3 (1958) [24:20]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/José Serebrier
Rec. 8-9 January 2003 at the Lighthouse in Poole, Dorset, UK. DDD
NAXOS 8.559149 [69:22]


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I used to be of the opinion that Ned Rorem’s music was not particularly interesting and somewhat contrived. Of course, I appreciated his fame as a composer of songs, but more for the fact that he actually kept the art song alive. Indeed he gave it a new lease on life and encouraged other composers to contribute to the literature. As for my above stated opinion, well, I was dead wrong. Rorem is a master of the orchestra, and these three symphonies are not only welcome, but long overdue additions to the recorded repertoire of American orchestral music.

All composed in the 1950s, these works have lain dormant for decades, with two of them only now receiving their first recordings. Hats are off to José Serebrier for his championing of this beautifully scored music. There is certainly a resemblance to the other great orchestral composers of his generation. Barber and Diamond come to mind as one listens to the opening passacaglia of the third symphony. The gorgeous largo of the same symphony is as atmospheric as anything I have ever experienced. The woodwind writing in the first symphony’s largo is to die for. But although Rorem clearly belongs to his generation, his is a voice all his own, and what a crime that more of his large output of orchestral music is not standard fare. He certainly is a craftsman of the first order, truly a master composer.

These are tuneful and lush works, and although traditional in concept, they are certainly fresh. Rorem proves beyond doubt that it was and is possible to compose original music that is devoid of the kind of scraping and noise-making typical of the academic composers of the middle twentieth century. I was struck by the fact that I immediately knew that this was music to which I would want to return later. I often hear new (and these must be considered new given their unacceptably scarce performances) works that might leave somewhat of a good impression, but do not entice me to bother with a second listen.

Serebrier and his Bournemouth players are above reproach. The string sound is rich, but it is also taut and lean where Rorem’s close harmonies dictate flawless intonation. The orchestra plays with superb ensemble and intonation, and Serebrier has a fantastic sense of line and forward motion. Nothing ever stagnates here; rather we are pulled along by his keen excitement and obvious appreciation for this music. It is evident just from the way these musicians launch into the scores that they have a great respect and appreciation for it.

Sound quality and production values are superb, and the excellent notes by the conductor, with contributions from the composer himself greatly enhance an already outstanding performance. Naxos have done miracles for American music with this fine series of recordings. One can only imagine what else they might have in store. One can also certainly hope that this excellent performance will encourage other conductors to program this music, which has languished in obscurity for far too long. Add this to your collection immediately if not sooner.

Kevin Sutton

see also review by John Quinn, Rob Barnett and Paul Shoemaker

 



Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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New Releases

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Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable Arcodiva
British Music Soc.
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Lyrita
Nimbus
Northern Flowers
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Sheva
Talent
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