is a short work for string orchestra receiving its world premiere
recording here. The title refers to a book about the suicide
of a schizoid adolescent and the music is described by Ned
Rorem as "less programmatic than a mood of remembrance".
In length and instrumentation Pilgrims could be compared
with Samuel Barber's much-loved Adagio for Strings.
However Barber sustains and culminates his concrete melody
whilst Rorem's melody diffuses, shifting and sometimes interrupted.
I kept thinking of an empty house with living memories, astringent
chords indicating that not all are happy, drifting within
its rooms. The work stops with a brief arching shiver.
A listener who
did not know who wrote this flute concerto (2002) would quickly
identify a twentieth/twenty-first century composer with a
lyrical gift. A clue pointing to Ned Rorem is the flute’s
steady winding theme opening the gorgeous second movement
Leaving-Travelling-Hoping which mirrors the even falling and/or
spiralling phrasing in many of his songs, such as Clouds,
The Sowers, That Shadow My Likeness, Ferry Me Across
the Water. Indeed the singing quality throughout is what
distinguishes this warm, melodic concerto.
concerto opens with a melody above blows from the timpani.
Shades of the last movement of Mahler 10? The booklet informs
us the ffffff seven-note clusters perhaps mean Fate.
This 'leitmotif' recurs. Throughout I was aware of a 'settling',
not only through the overarching structure from loud opening
to final repose but from the downward floating of many phrases.
All movements end quietly.
is the concerto's dedicatee and his playing is stunning, with
wide dynamic range and colour. There's nothing outwardly flashy
in Rorem's writing and I liked the way Khaner floats long
lines so naturally. But sample the The Stone Tower or
the brief False Waltz if you want to hear dazzling
for the flute include rapidly rising runs in the first movement,
like bubbles tearing to the surface, and the beautiful interplay
with other woodwind, glancing light off each other. False
waltz is instantly likable and reminiscent of Prokofiev’s
waltz suites. The Resume and Prayer recalls themes
from all previous movements, ending with repose.
The Naxos recording
of the flute concerto is a world premiere but the violin concerto
(1985) comes up against formidable competition from Leonard
Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic on Deutsche Grammophon
where the orchestra has more presence. For example, Kremer
is better covered by the New York Philharmonic's dark grey
storm clouds, which approach so inexorably in Toccata-Chaconne.
Compare the added frisson Bernstein brings to this movement
and the way he expresses the culminating violence at its centre
as Kremer, responding savagely, tears into Rorem's solo writing.
As recorded, it's
Kremer who is the more inward in the ravishing opening of
Romance Without Words and I prefer the slight huskiness
to Kremer's tone whilst Quint more openly warms the phrasing.
Surely Bernstein was born to conduct such songful melodies
and he does so here with a natural, plastic phrasing Serebrier
can't quite match.
Again, a quick
A-B comparison of the playfully devilish Toccata-Rondo
confirms the DG recording's superiority. The New York
timps have added bite and presence so their glissandi and
attack are clearer, highlighting the music’s tumbling quality.
Rorem's steady circular phrasing again! And Bernstein better
understands the relentless edge of Rorem's dark dance.
I'm grateful to
Naxos for introducing me to these wonderful concertos at budget
price and also for thereby encouraging me to find Bernstein/Kremer's
stunning alternative to the violin concerto at my local library.
And I wonder what flautist Sharon Bezaly and her BIS engineers,
with their bravely natural approach, would make of the ffffff
opening of the flute concerto? I bet those timpani thwacks
would have more depth and violence.
see also Reviews
by Patrick Waller and Rob