20th Century Music = BÁRTOK: Dance Suite; VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; COPLAND: Appalachian Spring Suite; STRAVINSKY: Suite from “The Firebird” (1919) – Park Avenue Ch. Sym./ David Bernard – Park Avenue Ch. Sym. 8 04879 51671 2, 79:57 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony (of New York City) is a crack ensemble which has put together a collection of pre-1950 classical music under the baton of the orchestra’s knowledgeable music director David Bernard.
Founded in 1999, this non-professional group has been called a world-class orchestra. They have made over 25 recordings and have concertized beyond New York City, as far away as China. Critics have brought out superlatives for this group which raises scholarship money for budding professionals and performs classical concerts around the New York City area at reasonable prices.
Each one of these musical pieces strongly reflects its their composer’s individual style and background. In his Dance Suite Bártok’s music is unlike any other, except that from some other 20th Century Hungarian composers. Bártok’s melodies, harmonies and rhythms are unusual and result from his early ethnomusicological studies in Central and Eastern Europe. Vaughan Williams contributed to the English Hymnal (1906) utilizing folk melodies and composed melodies. Here was the source of his Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. In Appalachian Spring Copland created his own melodies reflecting the American spirit of the pioneers, borrowing only one theme: the old Shaker Hymn “Simple Gifts.” Stravinsky’s exotic ballet The Firebird is the source of the suite (the second of three shorter suites and for smaller orchestra arranged by the composer), reflecting the Asiatic side of Russia in an example of brilliant orchestration.
This compact disc seems to be culled from some previous releases. Nonetheless, it is an interesting and attractive program which should appeal to any one interested in becoming familiar with these works. These recordings stand the test of comparison with other recorded performances, because Bernard is a very capable and perceptive leader who knows how to reveal the best in this music.
Each selection is as different from the others as could be, but all of them have this in common: They have become mainstays of the concert hall and in recordings.
The sound is exemplary. There is no information where these works were recorded or other technical data. But the result is wholly effective in bringing out the unique qualities in the various composers’ distinctive orchestrations.