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Duke ELLINGTON (1899-1974)
Harlem (orch. Maurice Peress) (1950) [14:27]
Black, Brown, and Beige - Suite (orch. Maurice Peress) (1943) [18:29]
Three Black Kings - Ballet (completed by Mercer Ellington)* (1943) [18:10]
The River - Suite (orch. Ron Collier) (1970) [21:04]
Billy STRAYHORN (1915-1967)
Take the ‘A’ Train† (arr. Ellington) (1939) [6:19]
Sal Andolina (clarinet* and alto saxophone*†); Tony Di Lorenzo (trumpet†); Amy Licata (violin†)
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
rec. Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, New York, USA, 9-11 May 2012 DDD
Naxos American Classics
NAXOS 8.559737 [78:30]

Experience Classicsonline

Duke Ellington was celebrated as a major big-band leader and pianist from the 1920s through to the 1970s. His concert music has had less attention. That said this is by no means the first time that this aspect has been addressed. Most prominently this was done by Neeme Järvi and the Detroit Symphony across CHAN 9909, CHAN 9926 and CHAN 9154, overlapping with two of the three works here.
Harlem is sub-titled A Tone Parallel to Harlem. It’s a work blessed with a mercurial wealth of ideas smoothly and kaleidoscopically varied. The versatile Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and JoAnn Falletta have no blushes and only confidence for its big-band jazzy jolt. It’s worth bearing in mind that in the 1970s this was the orchestra that delivered a devastatingly apt CBS LP of Gershwin Broadway overtures under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas. There’s clearly something in the DNA there. The brass and percussion in particular play it down and dirty with total conviction as in the smokily delivered up-swelling at 8:33 in Harlem.
The Black, Brown, and Beige suite swings, sashays and smooches moodily in the two outer movements, which occasionally can be heard casting sideway glances at Gershwin. There’s a Delian sigh to the Brown central movement which is Ellington’s tribute to the African-American soldiers of the Civil War and World Wars I and II.
Three Black Kings deploys railroad rhythm excitement in King of the Magi, more dank Delian bluesiness and sighing romance in King Solomon and deep affection in the extremely likeable Martin Luther King movement. This tripartite piece was left unfinished at Ellington’s death and was completed by his son.
In 1970 Ellington was commissioned by the American Ballet Theater to write a dance work with choreography by Alvin Ailey. It was for piano and big-band. The score was adapted for full orchestra by Ron Collier and five of those nine episodes are recorded here: The Spring, The Meander, The Giggling Rapids, The Lake and The River. This is a score affluent in inspiration and accommodating of Hollywood sentiment alongside poetic and jazzy populism. The music is also open to the moody and desolate cosmopolitan dark nights of the Philip Marlowe novels and the paintings of Edward Hopper. I note that the Järvi version on Chandos includes two movements not featured here: Vortex and Village Virgins

Take the ‘A’ Train
was Ellington’s signature number. It is incurably up-beat and street-confident. That’s what it gets from Buffalo and Falletta. The extended violin solo from Amy Licata is worthy of Grappelli.
The notes by Edward Yadzinski are fully up to the task.
A vital and very generous collection showcasing a concert Ellington who loved his commercial roots yet had more to give and gave it.
Rob Barnett 

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