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Marion BAUER (1882-1955)
A Lament on an American Theme, Op. 20a (1927) [5:21]
Concertino for Oboe, Clarinet and Strings Op. 32b (1939-43) [9:28]
Trio Sonata No. 1 for Flute, Cello and Piano, Op. 40 (1944) [8:11]
Symphonic Suite for Strings, Op. 33 (1940) [11:16]
Duo for Oboe and Clarinet, Op. 25 (1932) [8:30]
American Youth Concerto, Op. 36 (1943) [15:59]
Ambache Chamber Orchestra and Ensemble/Diana Ambache
Rec. 21-22 October 2004, St Silas Church, Kentish Town, London. DDD
NAXOS 8.559253 [58:45]
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Despite being an important figure in the foundation of American classical music, Marion Bauer - who died fifty years ago this year - is little talked about these days. The first of many American composers to study with Nadia Boulanger, her importance lies not only in her compositions, but also as a distinguished teacher, critic and writer. She also did much for the position and importance of women in classical music and American society, teaching at both New York University and the Juilliard School.

While her music is not as instantly recognisable as some of the more major figures in American music, there is much of merit on this Naxos disc. Part of the ever-growing series of ‘American Classics’, the music is here performed by the British-based Ambache Chamber Orchestra and Ensemble, who are also regular champions of music by women composers.

There is no one consistent particular style across these six works, however there is a typically American optimistic and spacious open-air quality to much of the music. The variety on this disc is clear, with a wide range of approaches and scoring. The influence of French music (among other styles), in which Bauer was immersed, is evident. The music is at times impressionistic, intensely romantic and often thoughtful. There are also lighter qualities to this music, which become most obvious in the American Youth Concerto of 1943. Along with A Lament on an African Theme this is perhaps the most ‘American’-sounding work on the disc. The concerto contains some exquisite and lush writing in the slow movement before concluding with a boisterous medley of American styles.

The profound and sincere virtues of the Symphonic Suite for Strings reflect a feeling of grief, with members of her own family being killed as a result of their Jewish faith during the Second World War. Consequentially this is perhaps the most individual and personal music on the disc.

The Duo for oboe and clarinet in four movements displays a technical brilliance in Bauer’s composing. It is surprisingly varied enough not to be too long, being also perhaps the most experimental work in this programme. The Concertino for Oboe, Clarinet and Strings is primarily romantic in nature and extremely lyrical, while the remaining work (the Trio Sonata No. 1) displays almost open impressionist tendencies.

The music is sensitively and thoughtfully performed throughout and Diana Ambache is a worthy exponent of this music as director and soloist. A criticism is that there could have been an extra element of passion in the music-making; this could have brought alive certain sections of the Trio Sonata and of the Symphonic Suite a little more. The final impression is certainly favourable, however. The string quality in the Symphonic Suite is at times a little thin and I wonder if a larger group of strings may have been able to do this work a little more justice.

Naxos have given us an appropriately intimate recorded sound and St Silas’ Church in Kentish Town, London offers a suitably atmospheric acoustic. The booklet notes by Diana Ambache are clear and to the point.

Overall a useful addition to Naxos’s American Classics’ series.

Adam Binks

see also review by Mark Morris



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