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Ned ROREM (b. 1923)
Pilgrims (1958) [7:14] *
Flute Concerto (2002) [31:21] *
Violin Concerto (1985) [24:07]
Philippe Quint (violin)
Jeffrey Khaner (flute)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/José Serebrier
rec. 16-17 June 2005, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, UK. DDD
* world premiere recording
NAXOS 8.559278 [62:42]
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The Naxos American Classics series has transformed the accessibility of American music worldwide. A remarkable range and quantity of works have been recorded and reissued. Look at the Hanson, Schuman and Piston series. Living composers such as Bolcom and Rorem have also benefited from multiple CD issues covering a staggering breadth of genres. Rorem has had recordings of songs, all three numbered symphonies and much else. Here now are two concertos from the last two decades and a potently atmospheric mood-piece from the late 1950s.

Pilgrims is for string orchestra. It is one of a series of full orchestral works with single word titles: Lions and Eagles. These receive little attention and usually appear on recordings as adjuncts to more ‘substantial' works such as the concertos and symphonies. In this respect they are similar to another neglected sequence by the Welsh composer William Mathias: Helios, Vistas, Laudi and Requiescat. Rorem’s writing in Pilgrims owes something to Schuman - less gritty perhaps - and to Roy Harris (2.23; 4:55) with undercurrents that British music enthusiasts will recognise from Finzi and Tippett. The music is warm, elegiac and poignant - a companion to the Barber Adagio and Finzi's Romance. The piece has nothing to do with the Pilgrim Fathers but relates to Hebrews 11:13: These also died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off ... and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth ... Now when is someone going to give us a modern recording of the voluptuously warm and fantastic Lions?

The Flute Concerto is a work of piercing and fantastic beauty: a faery flight in sound. Just listen to the False Waltz movement which links back to Barber's Souvenirs. The Concerto is in six movements and was written for Jeffrey Khaner, principal flutist of the Philadelphia. The composer makes no claims to any form of cyclical structure and readily concedes that the six movements are loosely related and might easily have been called a 'suite'. Although this work has its climactic dramas its territory is largely derived from Debussy and Ravel - especially Debussy. It is as if the Faune has been permitted to meander again through some realm of sorrow and contentment and meditate amid a classical landscape of cypress trees, peaceful groves and lakes. The titles of the six movements are The Stone Tower, Leaving-Traveling-Hoping; Sirens; Hymn; False Waltz; Resume and Prayer. The flute is apt to this paradise world. Jeffrey Khaner's command of technique leaves him free to colour and stylise the moods and vistas in what is a reference recording of the work. This is a gloriously ecstatic and dreamily pagan work.

The 1985 Violin Concerto was been recorded by DG in the 1980s and that version by Gidon Kremer is still available from DG on a very generously packed mid-price disc with the violin concerto by Glass and Bernsteinís Serenade on Deutsche Grammophon 445 185-2. Like the Flute Concerto this work is for soloist and full orchestra and is in six movements. While the composer again modestly lays claims to the concertoís nature as a suite it has a more tautly knit and concise feel than the Flute Concerto. It's a more dramatic work too. While it has its dreamily melodic moments as in the Romance Without Words and at the start of Dawn, it embraces a more oxygenated vitality as in Toccata-Rondo. While these triangulation points may be widely spaced you may well like this work if you respond to the violin concertos by Barber and Adams and the concertos by Tchaikovsky and Delius. It ends in what seems to be gaze at the benevolent sun of morning. Philip Quint is an outstanding soloist and lends a greater emotional warmth to the Rorem than that mustered by Gidon Kremer on the DG version. Quint impressed with his Naxos recording of the Schuman concerto, again with Serebrier conducting review. I hope that he might be engaged by Naxos to record the two Paul Creston violin concertos and from an earlier era, the Edward Burlinghame Hill concerto..

All of these works are melodic and tonal. There is some mild dissonance and including some sensationally spicy harmonic 'crunches' in Pilgrims. The language is clearly Rorem's own but has its roots in impressionistic French voices, Barber and even Delius.

The recording quality throughout is sensational. It stands Rorem and the performers in good stead for the intimate flute solos as at the start of a far from puritanical Hymn and the explosive moments such as those in The Stone Tower.

The notes are by José Serebrier who writes extremely well in the business of describing music through the unpromising medium of words.

A classic album. Satisfying and beautiful music that has about it a rippling current of vitality.

Rob Barnett


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