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Meyer KUPFERMAN (b.1926)
Violin Concerto The Voyager (2001) [26.39]
New Space for oboe, violin and guitar (1998) [20.08]
Quantum Symphony (2000) [23.02]
Piano Concerto No. 3 Foxfire (2002) [28.40]
Sonata Occulta (1979) [15.52]
Gregory Fulkerson (violin)
Czech National Symphony Orchestra/Paul Freeman (Voyager; Quantum; Foxfire)
Cygnus Ensemble (New Space)
Christopher Vassiliades (piano)
rec. 5-7 June 2002. ICN Polyart, Prague. DDD
The Orchestral Music Vol. 15
SOUNDSPELLS CD 134 [2CDs: 71.01+44.45]

 

Kupferman is of mixed emigré Romanian and Russian parentage. He is entirely self-taught in composition. Kupferman's father introduced him to many East European, Jewish and gypsy melodies. In his teenage years he worked in jazz clubs absorbing an idiom that surfaces from time to time in his compositions. Kupferman was professor of composition at Sarah Lawrence College from 1951 until his retirement in 1994. There are, as of 2002, seven operas, twelve symphonies, nine ballets, seven string quartets, ten concertos and hundreds of chamber works.

Kupferman's long nurtured interest in jazz has fermented fruitfully with his concert music. In addition to the Concerto for cello and jazz band there are - Sonata on Jazz Elements, Tunnels of Love, Adjustable Tears and Jazz String Quartet. There was a Jazz Symphony in 1988 recorded in 1990 by the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra on Soundspells CD104.

The Voyager Violin Concerto owes something of its existence to the composer happening upon one of his old and tattered notebooks of violin ideas. Although none of the old material was used Kupferman, while stuck in the creative doldrums, took the idea of mixing old and new. The Concerto is in three movements - slow-fast-slow. The soloist stands silent before each then plays a cadenza-like ‘foreword’. These movements, we are told, share the same nine-tone motif, the same lyric theme and the same absorption in contemplation. Rather like the Cello Concerto (VoxBox) this is a quintessentially romantic work (try the middle movement) buttressed by the composer's predilection for atonalism and anxiety. The more agitated music proclaims an interest in the Polish 'modernism' of Lutosławski and Penderecki. Gregory Fulkerson has recorded previously with Louisville Edition. He is the soloist in the Roy Harris Violin Concerto on Albany. The composer must have been delighted with Fulkerson's totally committed approach, his virtuosity both in display and in poignant eloquence. Schuman meets Penderecki.

New Space is for oboe, violin and guitar. This work was commissioned for the Raritan River Music Festival. It was written just after sons were born to two of the composer’s friends. The penetrating and confidently probing singing of the oboe interacts with the busily garrulous violin and the commentary of the guitar. Kupferman makes no attempt to make any of these instruments do anything that is alien to their souls. The guitar's role recalled for me the part played by the harp in several of Kupferman's works where, usually in a ‘canyon’ of sound, a sudden rhythmic or melodic effect seizes the moment in a way that carries the music forward or holds time in its grasp for eerie seconds.

The Foxfire Piano Concerto (his third) is from 2002. Kupferman tells us that the piano is his favourite instrument. He says that he has composed more works for the piano than for any other instrument. He refers to this concerto as a totally athletic conception. It begins in a volcanic searingly serial way with thrusting Bergian sunrise figures amid which the soloist (the brilliantly audacious Christopher Vassiliades) smashes and lunges. The work is in a single movement lasting almost half an hour. After about ten minutes the concerto subsides into a reflective though dissonant phantasm soon returning to nightmare wellsprings of brittle energy. This is pretty unforgiving stuff and offers none of the softer virtues to be found in the Violin Concerto or in the two cello concertos.

Vassiliades has the second CD of this set pretty much to himself. The Sorabji-like title of the Sonata Occulta 'hides' a two movement work whose quieter moments reminded me of Arnold Rosner (CD2, tr.2, 2.34 onwards) though the focus slips and shifts between Rosner and Schoenberg. The first movement is a Lento; the second an Allegro Quieto.

The Quantum Symphony was written in 2000 and is in three andante movements: barbaro in the first and the last two are 'con moto'. The music is gripping, apocalyptic, volcanically explosive, yet with strong lyrical gestures. The composer has the work generating and efflorescing from three germ cells announced at the start of each movement. This is the toughest Kupferman work I have come across. Compared with the concertos for cello and violin and the Lyric Symphony this has one of the toughest carapaces although excitement and humour (swannee whistles) are not in short supply.

The orchestral cortex of this 2CD set was established in three solid days of recording sessions in Prague. Those with tetchily demanding ears may take exception to some earlier Kupferman Soundspell CDs taken from Serenus LPs. They need have no reservations in this case because the ICN Polyart recording is outstanding.

The composer writes superbly about his own music with little recourse to obscurantist technicality.

Rob Barnett

 



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