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John DUFFY (1926-2015)
Heritage Fanfare and Chorale [3:16]
Heritage Suite for Orchestra [24:39]
Symphony No. 1 Utah (1989) [22:33]
Heritage Symphonic Dances [16:23]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Richard Williams
Utah Symphony Orchestra/Joseph Silverstein (only Symphony)
rec. no details
ALBANY TROY304 [67:13]

We Want Mark Twain (2005 rev 2009) [19:39]
Saxophone Concerto (1964) [19:59]
Seven Portraits for Orchestra (1955-2005?) [26:27]
Cassatt String Quartet, Isaiah Sheffer (narrator), Signe Mortensen (singer) (Twain);
Cassatt String Quartet, Tomoya Aomori (double bass), Glenn Morrissette (tenor saxophone) (concerto); Utah Symphony Orchestra/Joseph Silverstein and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Richard Williams (Portraits)
rec. no details
ALBANY TROY1240 [66:08]

Testament [7:40]
Heritage Suite for Soprano Saxophone and Piano (2002) [10:29]
Clarinet Concerto (1955) [11:45]
Declaration of Interdependence (2003) [8:42]
Concerto for Tenor Saxophone and Concert Band [20:40]
Pride of Virginia [4:38]
Fanfare for Shipbuilders [0:56]
Carrie Koffman (soprano saxophone), Charles Woodward (piano), Patti Ferrell Carlson (clarinet); Robert W. Cross (percussion); Glenn Morrissette (saxophone),
Virginia Arts Festival Wind Ensemble/JoAnn Falletta; Virginia Symphony Chorus, (Testament; Pride of Virginia)
rec. no details
ALBANY TROY831 [65:09]

Composer and musical organiser extraordinaire, John Duffy was no stranger to melody and evidently no adherent of revolutionary adventures in sound. A native of the Bronx he was one of 14 children of Irish immigrant parents. He studied with Cowell, Dallapiccola and Copland - two summers at Tanglewood. He saw service under age in the US Navy and played his part in the Battle of Okinawa. There are more than three hundred works variously for symphony orchestra, screen and stage. As these three CDs show, his musical style is traditionalist and his craft is impeccable. He was the founder and, for twenty years, President of "Meet The Composer", an organization "dedicated to the creation, performance and recording of music by American composers".

The first disc ushers in the gawky unhurried dignity of the Heritage Fanfare and Chorale. This recalls Copland in the Third Symphony. The Heritage Suite is in six movements, including an Overture of resounding magnificence which incorporates the Heritage Fanfare. This suite is derived from Duffy's music for the PBS series Heritage - Civilization and the Jews which carried a narration by Abba Eban. The David and Bathsheba movement, in cool contemplation, uses the phrases adopted in the first movement. The Dance of the Golden Calf is feral and barbaric while The Destruction of the Temple has the stamp of Franz Waxman about it. Diaspora is more hotly pressed forward than I had expected. The music speaks of the urgency of movement and by implication the consequences of not moving. Finale - Prophecy takes us back to the bells, drums and leonine brass of the Overture.

The Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club commissioned Symphony No. 1 in order to draw attention to the endangered, pristine wilderness of southern Utah. It was given its first performance by Paul Connelly and the Orchestra of St. Luke's at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City on 29 November 1989. This three-movement piece starts with a movement God's Wilderness which shares the commanding atmosphere of the first of the seven Portraits. That impelled forward grunt is redolent of the orchestral minimalists; you may even think of the dynamic drive of the first movement of Moeran's Symphony in G Minor. The second movement is Requiem for Glen Canyon. Glen Canyon was flooded in 1961 in order to establish a state recreation area. Duffy takes this movement as a basis for contemplation of earth's primeval history. Puwa is the finale - the word means 'life force' in the language of the native American Ute tribal group. Again Duffy leans on Copland's example but does so with freshness and a boisterous sanguine spirit.

Back to the music of Heritage - Civilization and the Jews where Duffy quarries the Heritage Symphonic Dances. In David's Dance Duffy aims to capture David's wild abandon as he dances before the Lord. Rabbi's Dance is raw and whoops with the sound of the klezmer. Unsurprisingly, the movement reminds me of the raucous humour of the Yiddish theater tradition in the USA (Naxos). Renaissance Dances echoes the sounds of Elizabethan music as we hear them in Britten's Gloriana Dances. The Spanish Dance catches the arrogant strut and the castanets add the final cliché. The America movement is borne up by uproarious confidence. We end with a profligately sumptuous Waltz that could happily subsist in the same programme as the waltzes by Barber (Souvenirs) and Richard Rodney Bennett with a descant of whooping horns to remind us of Sousa.

Duffy has the measure of the gangly, non-conformist Mark Twain in We Want Mark Twain, a piece for narrator and a string quartet cradled in a warmly present recording. The spoken aspect is pretty much non-stop story-telling with the burden taken by Isaiah Sheffer. Sheffer is assisted by Signe Mortensen and - by the sound of it - members of the Cassatt Quartet. At a few key moments we hear the shout of "We want Mark Twain".

The Saxophone Concerto carries the superscription In Memory of Stan Getz. The 'orchestra’ here is the Cassatt Quartet supplemented by Tomoya Aomori's double bass. The tenor sax soloist is Glenn Morrissette. It's a wild and woolly three- movement piece, driven hard in the Manhattan Juggernaut first movement and the restlessly exciting finale, Opening Day Yankee Stadium. Harlem - Memorial for children is at once sultry and touching. No wonder - it was written in the throes of the Civil Rights struggles and bears the title "Four Little Girls Killed by Bomb in a Birmingham Baptist Church". It includes shreds of what sounds like playtime songs violated by brusque interjections.

There are seven Portraits for Orchestra. They are played here by the RPO conducted by Richard Williams. In fact the first, Mountains Majesty is given by the Utah SO conducted by Joseph Silverstein. These Portraits are well worth getting to know and can be seen as an extension of Virgil Thomson's own Portraits. Its big and bruising growling headlong quality inhabits the world of the driven minimalists and of Bernard Herrmann's music for North by North-West. Jerusalem has a bouncy, driven klezmer accent. Istanbul is full of optimism and a steady dawn light. Muhammad Ali romps with defiance and is always on the front foot. Picasso makes a big brassy sound flaunting mastery and referencing Hispanic flavours in the trumpet and zingy strings. The Einstein portrait uses the Viennese dance ambience but goes light on the waltz and adds all sorts of emotional subtlety. Lady Liberty is a reference to the Statue of Liberty viewed by Duffy's parents when they steamed into New York harbor. It makes a fitting and by no means blushing companion to Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man.

Testament for choir and symphonic band is in three short episodes. The America movement launches the piece with what we now know as Duffy's euphonious patriotism. The Maine movement reminded me of Howard Hanson's writing for choir and is highly melodic as well as alive to variation of texture. It’s a hymn to a way of life as much as to a landscape. We end with the 'oompah' celebrations of Rejoice. Its upbeat visions are summed up by Stephanie Shershow's words "Forget the false visions. Don’t mess with contempt!"
 
We come back to the Heritage Suite. This time it is decked out for soprano saxophone and piano. The music is now familiar in part with Renaissance Dance being picked out piquantly. The finale - Rabbi's Dance - is raucous with delight. Sephardic Dance picks up again on the klezmer sentimentality heard on earlier discs. Shtetl is a thoughtful with a slight middle-eastern twist in the melody which is carried by the saxophone. The whole suite is most eloquently put across.

When it comes to the Clarinet Concerto the first movement bustles along, hymning the delights of Central Park (boisterous) and The Hudson River (moonlit). Charlie Parker Day is an entwined and slowly twisting blues yet with kinetic passages to stir in some variety. The finale is Madison Square Garden with battering grand moments and playfulness.

Declaration of Interdependence is a three-section hymn for choir and orchestra. The hymn is to all peoples and to interdependence rather than independence. It's all over and done with in less than ten minutes. The clear-voiced choir fly with precision through a hail-storm of words - in many languages - concerned with peace.

Duffy's Concerto for Tenor Saxophone is by now a familiar friend. We hear it in its concert-band garb. Manhattan is dangerous and not lacking in brute force. Harlem, with its sad superscription, is as powerful as ever and Yankee Stadium is all freckle-faced and joyously confident.

We know by now that Duffy was a dab-hand at patriotism and fanfares. Pride of Virginia is a hymn for choir and ensemble. It burns with inspiriting conviction. Again the manner will require you to enjoy the choral writing of Howard Hanson and John Ireland's These Things Shall Be. If you surrender to the mood as you will have done in Declaration of Interdependence then you will get more from this.

Duffy's short trilling Fanfare for Shipbuilders ends the disc in magnificence.

The liner notes are useful including contributions from the composer and others. Sadly they are not very specific about the dates of many of these works.

Rob Barnett
 

 

 




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