Ned ROREM (b.1923)
Chamber Music with Flute
Mountain Song, for flute and piano (1949) [3:09]
Romeo and Juliet, for flute and guitar (1977) [19:46]
Trio, for flute, cello and piano (1960) [16:53]
Book of Hours, for flute and harp (1975) [18:28]
Four Prayers, for flute and piano (2006) [12:36]
Fenwick Smith (flute); David Leisner (guitar); Ronald Thomas (cello); Ann Hobson Pilot (harp); Mihae Lee (piano)
rec. Campion Center, Weston, Massachusetts, 25 April 1993; First and Second Church, Boston, 23-25 September 1993; Sonic Temple, Roslindale, Massachusetts, 27 August 2008. DDD

Reading the small print on the back inlay reveals that only the Four Prayers on this disc are newly recorded - the other four works date back to an EtCetera CD released in the 1990s (KTC 1184). Nevertheless programme continuity is ensured by American flautist Fenwick Smith and Korean-born pianist Mihae Lee, coming together to record Four Prayers fifteen years on from the Trio and the rest.

For Ned Rorem there is a much bigger gap between first and last - these works span nearly sixty years of astonishing creativity. Although at a mere eighty-eight Rorem is half a generation younger than Elliott Carter, this is still a composer of such longevity that his early works predate Richard Strauss's so-called Four Last Songs, and his First Symphony predates Vaughan Williams's last three!

Rorem's career has been less critically feted than Carter's, due in part, no doubt, to the fact that his basically tonal idiom and general antipathy towards the avant-garde kept him on the outside of establishment cliques in the US. That Rorem writes attractive, listener-friendly music is clearly demonstrated by this gently atmospheric, introspective and thoroughly genial programme from Smith and co. Smith gives a master-class in flute technique and presentation, never let down by his various co-performers who are no mere accompanists. In his CD notes, Rorem himself praises these soloists highly, so their accounts may be considered fairly definitive.

Rorem's flute music has a largely neo-Classical feel to it, being nuanced, intimate, well-structured and generally melodic, with only a brief foray into more mordacious modernist territory here and there. Describing his early love of the "breathy gold wafting through the French forests" sound of the flute, Rorem notes that "among my opus-minus-one notebooks are many a flute solo, unused but not forgotten."

Sound quality is very good, all the more so considering the age of most of the recordings. Rorem's one absent flute work, the 1987 quintet with piano and strings, Bright Music, has already been recorded by Fibonacci Sequence for Naxos, on a disc which also includes their reading of The Book of Hours - see review. As if that were not listening joy enough, Naxos offer further Rorem volumes, of his orchestral and vocal music, including the Flute Concerto, the three Symphonies and selected songs, and there is even another recording of The Four Prayers in their 'American Classics' series (8.559629).

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Nuanced, intimate, well-structured and generally melodic.