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Meyer KUPFERMAN (b.1926)
Lyric Symphony [22.36]
Variations for Orchestra [12.28]
Ostinato Burlesco [8.25]
Concerto for Cello and Jazz Band [25.25]
Japan Philharmonic/Akeo Watanabe
David Wells (cello)
Hartt Jazz Ensemble/Donald Mattran
rec. ADD from LPs Serenus 1200 and 1281
The Orchestral Music of Meyer Kupferman Vol. 1
SOUNDSPELLS CD 111 [69.13]


This disc and several of the early instalments in Soundspell's Kupferman Edition are taken from recordings first issued on LP on the Serenus label.

I came to this disc with two pieces of baggage. Firstly I recalled praise for the music in early issues of Fanfare. Secondly I had just heard the impressively diaphanous and vehement Kupferman Cello Concerto (the one with tape and orchestra) on VoxBox's American Concertos double CD.

Kupferman was born in Manhattan in 1926. His natural lingua franca is atonal but with an unblinkered aptitude for importing tonal elements when there is an expressive need.

His Lyric Symphony is not perhaps typical. It is inspired by memories of a lost composer friend whose natural medium was tonality. The work is in a single 22 minute movement incorporating three episodes played without interruption. Each episode is predominantly slow or moderato. It is played here by the orchestra and conductor who appeared in several CRI recordings of the 1950s and 1960s. The recording shows the stress and strain of the years that have passed since it was made for Serenus in, I would guess (the notes are silent), 1960-65. The strings sound a tad strident and the original recording engineer pulled back on the levels when the music rose to any great eminence. This is an impressive work suggestive of some apocalyptic amour with the hyper-romantic musing love-song on the high strings (Barber out of Harris out of Pettersson) heard at the outset and returning with satisfying emphasis at the end.

The Variations for Orchestra are systematically atonal but avoid the morose meandering often associated with such work by variation of speed and incident. Certainly the writing is not emotionally desiccated and the orchestration is full of colour. The theme is a Moderato intenso followed by four variation sections marked agitato, andante, allegro, moderato andante. Once again the sound is stressed. The Ostinato Burlesco is an ebullient orchestral concert-opener - Bernstein on turbo. This is easy to listen to, complete with burbling horns and seething with percussion-driven rhythmic 'irritation'. The tumult pauses for thought in an exotic mist redolent of Griffes' Pleasure Dome before the thrashingly adrenaline pumping slalom resumes. An early piece then, with only the lightest atonal glaze and with more of Broadway about it than Schoenberg. Wonderful. Try it on your unsuspecting friends.

Kupferman's Cello Concerto shows, rather like the works of the Swedes Lindberg and Johanson, a fruitful nexus between classical and jazz dissonances. It is scored for amplified cello, bass, three saxes, piccolo, flute, clarinet and bass clarinet. The three movements are Zodiac, Blues Stream and Wild Wild Roses. The cello is in urgent song most of the time in Zodiac with dissonance-inflected gestures from 1940s Big Band music. The Blues Stream is quietly alive with Gershwin blues but becomes more sourly reflective as the movement progresses. Wild and blasting interplay between the three saxes contrasts with the warming reflections of the cello's atonal rhapsodising. The work was originally written for Laszlo Varga who is the cellist for the completely different Kupferman Cello Concerto on VoxBox.

An attractive single disc introduction though the vintage sound of the three orchestral works begins to show its age. The disc should also appeal to out and out jazz enthusiasts.

Rob Barnett


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