“Fresh Dimensions” = CRAIG MADDEN MORRIS: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra; PAUL JOHN STANBERY: Robert McCloskey: The Life for Me – Frank T. Restesan, violin/Hamilton Fairfield Sym. Orch./Paul John Stanberry – Navona

A couple of new names and some very refreshing melodies.

“Fresh Dimensions” = CRAIG MADDEN MORRIS: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra; PAUL JOHN STANBERY: Robert McCloskey: The Life for Me – Frank T. Restesan, violin/Hamilton Fairfield Sym. Orch./Paul John Stanberry – Navona NV6026 [Distr. by Naxos], 55:48 (2/12/2016) ***1/2:

I confess I had not really heard of composers Morris or Stanberry before but thanks to this disc I am glad to become somewhat acquainted with their work. Morris’ Concerto for Violin and Orchestra presented here was originally written for violinist Christine Kwak. It is lovely work that has a decidedly “Americana” feel to it and each movement echoes some aspect of folk material or countryside living. I was especially taken with the buoyant and rather Barber-esque second movement, “Breezes.” Soloist Frank Restesan does a very fine job with this work, that I think all violinists should get to know.

Paul John Stanbery was also new to me. Stanbery is currently music director of the Hamilton Fairfield Symphony, the featured orchestra on these recordings and conducted by Stanbery. His mentors and teachers included conducting studies with Emil Raab, Ivan Trusler, Robert Porco and John Leman. He studied composition with Wallace DePue and H. Owen Reed and his Second Symphony “Foundations” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in music for 2012.

The two suites that comprise The Life for Me became instant hits. The music is very programmatic, and was composed for the Sam Ashworth film about Robert McCloskey, author of “Make Way for Ducklings” and other renowned and popular children’s books. Each movement seems to reflect some aspect to the author’s life and/or his stories, with movement titles such “The Donut Machine” and “Ducklings Everywhere” side by side with “The Rocky Coast of Maine.” I could not find a link online to this documentary but the concept is quite interesting as McCloskey’s books are very popular with young readers and their parents. There is a decidedly American feel to these suites with strong elements of jazz throughout and some sections that certainly seem to channel Copland. It is a very straight forward, uncomplicated work with direct audience appeal and clearly a ‘film score’ taste to it.

I liked both of these pieces although I think Morris’ Concerto is a bit more in my usual realm. Both of these works are very audience friendly and not at all ‘brain-racking’ to take in. I would like to hear more from both composers and – once again – kudos to Navona for bringing us very worthwhile music and ensembles that we may not otherwise get to hear.

—Daniel Coombs

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