ADAM SCHOENBERG: American Symphony; Finding Rothko; Picture Studies – Kansas City Sym. /Michael Sterns – Reference Recordings

ADAM SCHOENBERG: American Symphony; Finding Rothko; Picture Studies – Kansas City Sym. /Michael Sterns – Reference Recordings multichannel 5.1 SACD RR-139, 64:58 (1/20/17) ****:

American music by Schoenberg wonderfully recorded and performed.

This CD/SACD from Reference Recordings contains newly recorded works by Adam Schoenberg (no relation to composer Arnold Schoenberg). Schoenberg has had a productive relationship with the Kansas City Symphony and conductor Michael Stern, so the disc contains some early works by Schoenberg and a work commissioned by the KCS. Schoenberg’s works are increasingly being played by American Symphony Orchestras. He has a unique voice, and audiences seem to be connecting to his music.

The disc opens with Finding Rothko, written while Schoenberg was his doctoral program, studying with John Corigliano. It’s inspired by the Russian painter Mark Rothko, and  this composition followed extensive study of the artist before it was set to music.

American Symphony is the composer’s first post-graduation work. The symphony is upbeat, and while not patriotic in character, it was inspired by the 2008 election.

Finally we have Picture Studies for Orchestra, commissioned by the Kansas Citians and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The orchestra wanted a Pictures at an Exhibition type piece, and Schoenberg delivered. Rather than a study of a single artist, there are movements for Kandinsky, Calder, Miro and other sections that reflect aurally the sound of individual paintings.

Like other Reference Recordings, this sounds first class. It’s a demo-quality production, giving the listener a great introduction to these works of Schoenberg. The music, which is colorful and richly textured, mates well with the recording style here. I listened to the SACD layer for the full 5.1 multichannel experience, and it was dynamic and uplifting. It has the sound of a live performance, with the surrounds providing the sonic signature of Helzburg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing arts in Kansas City.

I liked Schoenberg’s music very much, and the recording and performance make this a very worthwhile purchase.

—Mel Martin

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