The London Philharmonic Celebrates American Composers
Donald ERB
(1927-2008) Concerto for Contrabassoon and Orchestra (1984) [14:26]
Marga RICHTER (b.1926) Blackberry Vines and Winter Fruit (1976) [12:41]
Erik LUNDBORG (b.1948) Switchback (1986-88) [10:47]
Irwin BAZELON (1922-1995) Symphony No. 8 for Strings (1986) [25:52]
Gregg Henegar (contrabassoon)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Harold Farberman
rec. Abbey Rd Studios, London, 24-25 May 1989.
LEONARDA LE331 [64:22]
Erb's buzzingly tense Contrabassoon Concerto has the feeling of a fantasy but one ‘conducted’ in a shadowed landscape falling into night. That initial pedal-pointed rumble recalls the start of Bax’s First Symphony and Strauss’s Also Sprach. The sound is brilliant without being unnatural. The contrabassoon in this compact single movement work does not try to be the sort of troubadour the tuba is in the RVW concerto. One can nevertheless hear - in his skill and invention - why Erb has been such a successful composer. In his catalogue this concerto is flanked by his The Seventh Trumpet for orchestra (1969) and two years afterwards by the Concerto for Brass and Orchestra (1986).
Richter’s endearingly entitled Blackberry Vines and Winter Fruit is also tense but there’s a bleakness too. This must be reflective of – as the composer writes – ‘the lonely beauty of the Vermont winter landscape …”. Do not be fooled into thinking that this is some icy pastoral like Winter in Glazunov’s The Seasons. There’s a sort of oratorical anger here. If it is picturesque one might be forgiven for thinking of the sort of landscape that Ligeti had in mind for his Le Grand Macabre.
Montana-born Erik Lundborg’s Switchback is a “homage to the big sky of my youth”. It’s a nature tone-poem of the Rockies. Again it sounds modern - like the Richter but more cataclysmic. The writing is angular and the title refers to the switchback roads necessary to attain the State’s mountain heights. The music is bright, frank in its discord and discontinuity as well as in its forbidding eloquence. This is nature without the yielding human element.
Irwin Bazelon was a pupil of Hindemith, Bloch and Milhaud. Bazelon’s two movement Eighth Symphony joins the honour roll of American works for orchestral strings alongside Schuman’s Fifth and the Sinfoniettas by Herrmann and Waxman. Here Bazelon again arrogates to himself the laurels of dissonance and does so without fleer or flinch. This is hard-line, unrelenting music; no punches are pulled. Explorers should note. His First Symphony is on Albany. There is an unrecorded Symphony No. 3 but the others have all been in the studio: No. 2 Testament to a Big City (1962) and No. 6 (Albany TROY 370), No. 4 (1965) (Albany TROY 363), No. 5 (1967) (CRI CR623 (1993)), No. 7 Ballet for Orchestra (1980) and No. 9 (Albany TROY 174), No. 8 ½ (1988) and No. 10 (unfinished, 1995) (Albany TROY 101).
The notes are extremely thorough and informative if in necessarily small print. The performances and sound are of elite quality.
Here are four fairly uncompromising and distinctive American works. The Bazelon is the most demanding in its dissonance and the Erb the most instantly approachable though still complex.
Rob Barnett
Four fairly uncompromising and distinctive American works brilliantly performed and recorded