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Centaur Records

Henri LAZAROF (b. 1932)
Symphony No. 4 In Celebration (1996)
Symphony No. 5 (1998)
Richard Zeller (baritone); Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Chorus; Gerard Schwarz
Recorded: (live) Benaroya Music Centre, Seattle, December 1998 (Symphony No.4) and April 2003 (Symphony No.5)
CENTAUR CRC 2657 [51:26]

Lazarof’s music was fairly well represented during the LP era. Some of it was championed by the likes of the late John Ogdon and James Galway. Structures Sonores (1966), an early major score that put him firmly on the musical map and still to this day one of his finest works, was recorded by Abravanel for Vanguard (a re-issue of it is now long overdue). More recently, though, his music has been taken-up by Gerard Schwarz who recorded various works for Delos (partly re-issued in Naxos American Classics series 8.559159) and for Centaur. Besides the disc under review, there also exists another release coupling Symphony No.3 "Choral" and Encounters (CRC 2519, to be reviewed shortly).

Lazarof’s present large output includes seven symphonies, eight string quartets, numerous concertos and orchestral works as well as a huge amount of chamber music, much of which is still unrecorded at the time of writing (2004). Lazarof’s music is sometimes a hard nut to crack, but his more recent works display a somewhat mellower idiom and are thus rather more directly accessible. This is certainly the case with his three choral symphonies, of which the Third and the Fifth are particularly impressive, each in its own way.

Symphony No.4 "In Celebration" for chorus and orchestra was commissioned by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra to commemorate the opening of the new Benaroya Concert Hall in Seattle. It is dedicated to Gerard Schwarz, a long-time Lazarof champion. The texts set in the three movements come from various sources: the first movement sets excerpts from Baron van Zwieten’s libretto for Haydn’s oratorio The Creation, itself drawing on Genesis and Milton’s Paradise Lost. The second movement sets parts of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Aeolian Harp. The third and final movement sets fragments from Ecclesiastes and lines from Psalm 98. The outer sections of the first movement are sung unaccompanied, the orchestra joining in later. Some of the music displays considerable stringency and impressive dissonance, whereas the voices sometimes fall back on Sprechstimme. After an imposing climax, the music winds its way back and the movement ends quietly, preparing the way for a slow movement that functions as a short lyrical interlude. This is followed by a massive song of praise, that – as far as I am concerned – does not entirely achieve the exultation it obviously aims at. I could not help thinking of what Walton or William Mathias could have made of it. However, even if celebration may not be Lazarof’s forte, his Fourth Symphony is a substantial, if slightly flawed piece of music.

Symphony No.5 for baritone, chorus and orchestra, completed in 1998, is also conceived on a grand scale. This time, Lazarof chose to set some of his own verse (we are not told whether they were written for this piece or not) in the first two movements, and parts of Rimbaud’s long poem Soleil et Chair (‘Sun and Flesh’), all texts being sung in French. The piece opens with a short orchestral introduction leading into the first vocal movement Songe-Espace (baritone and strings). About halfway into the second movement Ode pour l’Infini, the baritone is joined by the men’s voices, whereas in the final movement, the whole forces are brought in to grand effect. The music in the Fifth Symphony is Lazarof at his very best: powerfully evocative of mysterious infinite spaces as well as of ‘restless questionings’, strongly expressive throughout and impressively imaginative. A great piece of music.

Schwarz conducts vital performances of these substantial scores, and is well served by very decent live recordings. This is a very fine release that admirers of Lazarof’s music will want. Others may also find much to enjoy.

Hubert Culot


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