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Ingolf DAHL (1912-1970)
Concerto for Alto Saxophone (1948, 1959) [21:27]
Hymn (1947) [9:58]
Music for Brass Instruments (1944) [16:02]
The Tower of Saint Barbara - A Symphonic Legend in Four Parts (1955, rev 1960) [24:26]
John Harle (saxophone)
New World Symphony Orchestra/Michael Tilson Thomas
New World Brass (Jeffrey Biancalana, Derek Lockhart (trumpets); Gregory Miller (horn); Brian Diehl (trombone); Robert Lawless (trombone); Edwin Diefes (tuba))
No recording details given
PHOENIX PHCD173 [71:53]

Here are four Dahl works three for, or with, orchestra/wind-band and one for a brass sextet. This disc first drew 'breath' in 1995, the year in which this site emerged onto the internet. It was a Decca Argo original under the title Defining Dahl (444 459-2) and was part of a 30-CD American contemporary series which Decca were running, usually with Andrew Cornall as producer. They also championed Henry Brant and Aaron Jay Kernis among other, then 'new', American composers. When the series fell to the deletions axe Jeffrey Kaufman of Phoenix USA was quick to reach an arrangement with Decca to give these valuable discs a new and longer shelf life.

The eight-page liner booklet, all in English alone, includes a 4-page essay by Anthony Linick which is very much to the point on the four works here; no surprise there: Linick wrote a study of Dahl and his music: The Lives of Ingolf Dahl (AuthorHouse, 2008). There's also a brightly recounted and affectionate tribute to Dahl from conductor Michael Tilson Thomas who was one of Dahl's pupils at USC. Artist profiles are all present. Dahl was part of the same expatriate Pacific Rim community of brilliance and talent that included Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Milhaud, Krenek and Castelnuovo-Tedesco. He collaborated with Stravinsky and produced piano scores of the other composer's Danses concertantes and Scènes de Ballet.

When names such as John Harle and Michael Tilson Thomas line up to play the music of a rarely-heard composer whose reputation is slipping away there is, at the very least, likely to be something of glowing substance to be experienced. So it proves with the music of Hamburg immigrant of Swedish parentage, Ingolf Dahl. He is represented here in works dating from between 1944 and 1960.

The Saxophone Concerto is for alto instrument and wind-band. It starts in a cauldron of full-on tragic symphonic conflict. I wonder if Dahl had heard Martinů's symphonies, because that is the instant ambience established. Despite running to about 21 minutes across three movements the concerto remains a serious essay with excursions into succulent melodic peace in the Coplandesque Adagio. The Rondo finale is strong on snappy, syncopated display: half-Walton and half-Randall Thompson, or Portsmouth Point meets West Point marching band. As the movement progresses Dahl lets in some of the chasmal doom of the first movement. This is a very nourishing piece. It was written to a commission by the pioneering saxophonist Sigurd Rascher.

Hymn is, as must be expected again, a stern and even serious address to the listener. It began as one component of a bipartite piece, Hymn and Toccata (1947). Originally for piano, this score is heard here in an orchestration by Lawrence Morton. It has the air of a refugee movement from a larger symphonic work. Much of it is quietly spoken but it becomes urgent and statuesque at the close with a majestic stride typical of Copland's Lincoln Portrait. Its close is quietly spoken yet confident and thoughtful.

The laconically titled Music for Brass Instruments is in three movements. it was completed in Toronto in 1944. The serious Chorale Fantasy first movement is based on Christ Lay in the Bonds of Death. The effect is very appealing, essentially lyrical and moving but varied with fanfare-decorated brilliance. That same seriousness that benevolently shadows Hymn is at work here too and not at all expressively hampered by the lack of a full orchestra. The brief Intermezzo bounces along in Transatlantic high spirits - rhythmically rippling with life. The Fugue finale remains free from academic fustian. It proceeds with quiet ebullience and nothing trivial, just as we would now come to expect from this composer.

The last work on the disc, The Tower of Saint Barbara, is the latest (1954) and the longest at approaching 25 minutes. It is encouragingly subtitled as 'a symphonic legend in four parts'. The premiere was given by the USA's most adventurous of orchestras through the 1950s to 1970s, the Louisville Orchestra, on that occasion conducted by its guiding light from early days Robert Whitney; this was before Jorge Mester appeared on the scene.

A Christian martyr of the medieval era, Saint Barbara was killed by her own father after facing a choice between abandoning her faith or marrying a suitor chosen by her heathen father. This series of portraits places two character portrait movements (Barbara and The King) against The Tower and The Martyrdom. The first movement typically veers between sanguine-positive and reverent-devotional with brass outgoing but not brazen. Lyrical writing surges across the landscape. The King is another of Dahl's short brilliant movements rather akin to Intermezzo from Music for Brass. It's typically athletic, not lacking in forward drive and moving towards the brassy exultation of William Schuman. The Tower takes in Barbara's years of incarceration. The music picks up on the peace granted to Barbara by her solitary imprisonment but gradually introduces tension which prepares the ground for The Martyrdom. Incessant, searing writing - again echoes of Martinů - cuts across jagged and jazzy violence. This piece would pair well with Hindemith's suites Nobilissima Visione and Mathis der Maler.

The New World Symphony Orchestra based at the Lincoln Theatre Miami Beach was founded in 1987 by Tilson Thomas. It was established as a full-scale working orchestra and one made up of young musicians looking to cultivate their skills and musical aspirations. They show full mastery of the orchestral scores.

This music is not avant-garde but neither is it neo-romantic - nothing here of Howard Hanson, another US composer of Swedish parentage. Dahl is his own man but his music can be heard as related to that of pastoral Copland, earnestly symphonic Rubbra and brilliantly expressive Hindemith.

Rob Barnett