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David AMRAM (b.1930)
The Chamber Music – Live at the New York Chamber Music Festival
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1960) [17:30]
Elmira Darvarova (violin), Tomoko Kanamaru (piano)
Theme and Variations on 'Red River Valley' for flute and strings [11:40]
Carol Wincenc (flute); Face the Music Ensemble
Giants of the Night - A Concerto for Flute and Orchestra (version for flute and piano) (2002): Andante [14:50]
Carol Wincenc (flute), Hsin-Chiao Liao (piano)
Portraits, for piano quartet (1975) [11:40]
New York Piano Quartet with Wendy Sutter (cello)
Blues and Variations for Monk, for French horn (1955) [5:50]
Howard Wall (horn)
Five Readings from Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” for narrator(s) and jazz quartet (1957) [16:13]
Ekayani Chamberlin, Adira Amram, Douglas Yeager (narrators); David Amram Quartet (piano, drums, bass, congas)
rec. 7 Sept 2012, Symphony Space, New York City
URLICHT UAV5987 [79:57]

The name of American musician David Amram may well be familiar as the composer of the scores for the movies Splendor in the Grass and The Manchurian Candidate. There are two operas including Twelfth Night and the Holocaust opera The Final Ingredient as well as more than one hundred orchestral and chamber scores. The Violin Concerto is in there too as well as a French Horn Concerto – the latter no surprise as amongst Amram’s many accomplishments is as the first jazz horn player. The disc includes a most entertaining, heroic and even winsome Blues and Variations for Monk – Thelonious Monk. Howard Wall, the soloist, must have been looking over his metaphorical shoulder at the composer given Amram’s own mastery of the instrument. In fact he carries off the piece with every appearance of felicity. After this I would love to hear the two concertos.
 
The 1960 Violin Sonata, while not dissonant is certainly one of those angular all–elbows affairs. The ‘anchor point’ for me is the Stravinsky Violin Concerto but say three steps outwards into the ‘unknown region’. That said, Amram clearly knows the region and it’s the furthest reach among these works. The Sonata is packed with ear-tickling incident and motion as well as sporting a cool and tender central Andante. The finale has at least one swooping jazzy Grappelli episode but is otherwise given to a rather deliberate and thoughtful progress.
 
Then come two works for flute and orchestra with Carol Wincenc as the soloist. The gentle grace of the Red River theme and variations depicts the ‘remaining beauties of the western united states’. The cool and meanderingly jazzy Andante from Giants of the Night is dedicated to Jack Kerouac whose writings and friendship have been a major influence on Amram. Their literature intersects. Portraits dates from the mid-1970s and takes a blessedly simply ‘sampler’ style hymn and gradually clothes it in more modern garb with each variation.
 
The disc ends with five readings from Kerouac’s most famous ‘Beat Generation’ book. These are accompanied readings that can veer into singing. They are quirky, intimate, cool and jazzy. You have the feeling of nostalgia and of nothing approaching anger. Instead a sort of consoling loneliness hangs in the air: try On the roof of America. The David Amran Quartet includes the composer at the piano.
 
What a shame that nowhere are the timings for the individual works/tracks given. You do get a total timing: just a few seconds short of 80 minutes. The notes are fulsome though a bit shy about dates. They’re in English only.
 
Chances to sample Amram’s cooling and often engaging music come only rarely.

Rob Barnett