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Charles Tomlinson GRIFFES (1884-1920)
The White Peacock [5:37]
Three Poems of Fiona McLeod: The Lament of Ian the Proud [3:58]; Thy Dark Eyes to Mine [2:46]; The Rose of the Night [3:49]
Bacchanale [3:59]
Clouds [4:08]
Three Tone Pictures: The Lake at Evening [3:33]; The Vale of Dreams [3:02]; The Night Winds [1:52]
Poem for Flute and Orchestra [9:58]
The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan [12:29]
Barbara Quintiliani, soprano
Carol Wincenc, flute
The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
Recorded at Kleinhaus Music Hall, Buffalo, NY, February 2002. [DDD]
NAXOS 8.559164 [56:08]


Charles Tomlinson Griffes was one of the bright lights in American art music. Greatly influenced by Debussy and Ravel, Griffes was able to combine the impressionist ideal with a truly original melodic gift to create some of the most elegant music ever penned in this country. Alas, this light was extinguished all too soon when the composer died at the early age of thirty-five from pneumonia.

This concert of orchestral works played by the Buffalo Philharmonic is, with one small blemish, one of the loveliest recordings to have crossed the desk in some weeks. JoAnn Falletta has crafted a splendid shimmering string section, and achieves a balance and clarity that rivals the likes of Dutoit in his heyday at Montreal. The sense of line is superb, and when fine music is coupled with playing of this caliber, there cannot help but be a winsome result.

Like his hero Ravel, Griffes’ orchestra works were often composed first for the piano, then later orchestrated. The White Peacock is a case in point. Inspired by a poem by the British poet and novelist William Sharp (who wrote under the pseudonym of Fiona McLeod) this little vignette is breathtakingly beautiful.

Next up is the disc’s only disappointment, the three songs on poems by McLeod. There is certainly nothing wrong with these soaring melodies, richly orchestrated and colorfully spun. There is a big problem with the coreless and wobbly soprano of Barbara Quintiliani. She tends to sing no dynamic but loud, and as such pushes her instrument too hard. In addition, her enunciation is lacking to the point of making the texts unintelligible. Add to this that Naxos takes the maddening shortcut of not including printed texts in the booklet, and these three pieces, musically engaging as they are, could just as well have been left off.

The miniature works that follow the song-cycle are gem-like in their beauty and charm and are elegantly played. The program closes with the haunting Poem for Flute and Orchestra, and the picturesque Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan.

Sound quality is excellent. It is especially gratifying that the engineers were able to capture these performances in such crystalline sound, a sound that captures Ms. Faletta’s impeccable attention to detail and color. Notes are informative and concise.

This is close to an hour of very pleasant listening (excluding the aforementioned songs) and is worthy of a place on any cultured record shelf. The music is a nice addition to the impressionist repertoire, and a great diversion from Afternoon of a Faun. Recommended.

Kevin Sutton

see also reviews by Rob Barnett and Ian Lace

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