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David del TREDICI (b.1937)
Paul Revere’s Ride (2005) [33'10]
Christopher THEOFANIDIS (b.1967)

The Here and Now (2005) [10'05]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)

Lamentation from Symphony No.1 Jeremiah (1943) [29'55]
Hila Plitmann (soprano), Nancy Maultsby (mezzo); Richard Clement (tenor), Brett Polegato (baritone)
Atlanta Symphony Chorus and Orchestra/Robert Spano
rec. Symphony Hall, Woodruff Arts Center, Atlanta, 14-15 May 2005. DDD
TELARC CD 80638 [73’18]

The two attractive, large-scale choral works featured on this new Telarc CD were premiered in Atlanta in May 2005, and are here receiving their follow-up premiere recording.

Christopher Theofanidis’s The Here and Now consists of 13 brief movements setting words by the Persian mystical poet Rumi. His musings encompass many shifting moods including ecstasy, humour, desire, spirituality and, above all, love. It’s a tuneful, eclectic work that is very much in the mould of old-fashioned American Romanticism - Barber and Hanson come to mind. It also has a liberal sprinkling of Britten (the opening crunchy harmonies), Holst (the menacing opening to ‘Hear blessings dropping their blossoms around you’, track 6) and, in the chant-like choruses and colourful brass and percussion interjections, Orff’s Carmina Burana. Many of the sections are pretty much instantly hummable. This is a work that may well enter the repertoire as a substantial but easy-to-appreciate choral item.

David del Tredici is another neo-Romantic who unashamedly writes in a diatonic, attractive style. His setting of a Longfellow poem is a personal take on 9/11, with the heroism of Paul Revere in 1775 and its pivotal moment in the American Revolution, becoming a metaphor for the same selfless bravery of the firemen at the World Trade Center tragedy. The composer himself refers to it as beginning in ‘over-the-top fashion’. I found the many Varése-like siren calls a little corny and melodramatic. Nevertheless, the mix of quasi-minimalism and traditional choral writing is never less than enjoyable. There’s even humour amid the shameless patriotism, with the Finale’s fugue pitting ‘Rule Britannia’ against ‘Yankee Doodle’ – I’ll leave you to guess which wins.

The best things about both works are Spano’s conducting, urgent, energetic and dramatic, and the choir, whose tonal blend and sheer virtuosity are thrilling. The solo singing is also very good without being especially memorable.

Wedged between the two new works is the ‘Lamentation’ movement from Bernstein’s Jeremiah Symphony, a 10-minute Mahlerian lament for the ruined, fallen city of Jerusalem - another clear link to 9/11. Again, Spano’s conducting is big and bold, as befits the music, but Lenny’s own performance with the Israel Phil. on DG has a unique and powerful theatricality, even if it’s nowhere near as well recorded. I also prefer Christa Ludwig’s surer solo work to Nancy Maultsby’s rather heavy, vibrato-laden mezzo. Still, even taken out of context it makes an ideal complement to the other works featured.

With superb sound, this disc can be confidently recommended to those who like their choral music devoid of spurious modernism.

Tony Haywood

 

 



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