To judge by the recording dates, these three orchestral works from veteran American composer Emma Lou Diemer have been lying around the archives for some time - credit to Navona for resurrecting and compiling them into an attractive package. The Santa Barbara Overture
was in fact recorded for a 2001 MMC compilation (2111), whilst the two concertos are, according to Diemer's own notes, also reissues from one place or another.
The opening Overture is "a musical expression of the wondrous city of Santa Barbara, incorporating elements of Mexican, Spanish and Native American music, as well as echoes of pentatonic jazz and Asian." If that sounds like the ingredients of a mishmash, it is certainly true that Bernstein's Jets and Sharks are never far away, likewise Copland at his most Americana-esque. The good bits and not-so-good bits even themselves out, however, to give a moderately entertaining work. Abbey Road sound quality, though, is outstanding, as is the music-making by the LPO under Brynmore Jones.
The two one-movement concertos are more substantial and musically interesting. The soloists, marimbist Nathan Daughtrey and pianist Betty Oberacker, give cogent performances. Oberacker especially, as original dedicatee and premiere-giver of the piano concerto, is as authoritative as she is fluid. Virtuosic too - indeed both these imaginatively scored works offer many a challenge to musicians, whilst staying within the boundaries of listener-friendliness. The Slovak and Czech Radio Symphony Orchestras make highly competent contributions. The piano concerto in particular emerges as a work worthy of greater dissemination.
The concertos were recorded in Slovakia and the Czech Republic this time, more usual venues for Navona, and historically not always offering the highest results. However, re-mastered sound here is as impressive as the London recording, with a wide, vivid stereo given almost a 'super-audio' effect.
The booklet is neat, well written and fairly detailed - certainly with regard to biographies. Running time is not overly generous, but Navona CDs can be had at attractively cheap prices. Diemer learnt her art from the likes of Krenek, Sessions, Hanson and Hindemith - with underpinnings like that, it is no wonder that her orchestral music has wide potential appeal, and this disc is a welcome, well played introduction to her talents.
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