“American Stringbook” = DIAMOND: Rounds for String Orchestra; FOOTE: Suite in E; BARBER: Serenade for Strings Op. 1; Adagio for Strings Op. 11; WM. SCHUMAN: Symphony No. 5 – do.gma chamber orchestra/ Mikhail Gurewitsch – Berthold Records/Audio•Max multichannel SACD (2+2+2) 912 1717-6, 67:48 [Distr. by MD&G] *****:
The 16-member, strangely-named do.gma chamber orchestra (and all lower case, mind you) stand up for their performances (except for the cellists) as do The New Century and some other small string ensembles. The album’s booklet front is emblazoned with DO.GMA#2, which means this is the group’s second SACD for the label. In it they have focused on three 20th century U.S. composers plus one from the late 19th century (Foote), writing for strings.
The first and last works will probably be the most familiar to listeners. The Diamond three-movement Rounds makes use of a popular form for communal singing in the 16th century—a type of canon. Tho those were very simple, Diamond gets a bit more complicated, and even jazzy in his first theme. The melodies sound something like dance tunes. The intense Adagio movement gets away from the rounds form, but the closing Allegro returns to it with folk-like tunes and much energy. The closing piece on the disc is the familiar and touching Barber Adagio, which the composer quickly arranged for string orchestra after he saw the popularity of the Adagio movement from his String Quartet. This is a strongly-felt and rich performance of the piece which makes a perfect conclusion for the program.
I had forgotten that the Schumann Fifth Symphony was for strings. It fits in with his report of having been introduced to classical music by his sister taking him to a Toscanini concert when he was already 20. He said: “I was astounded to see the sea of stringed instruments, and everybody bowing together.” Written in 1943, the first two movements show a harsh and violent quality that could be due to the time of composition. However, the last movement has a more positive and optimistic slant to it. It is the longest work on the program. I think I was unfamiliar with the other Barber work here—the lovely Serenade for Strings. He wrote it when he was only 19 and studying at the Curtis Institute.
The rich string tone of the ensemble is beautifully captured in the hi-res surround recording. I believe it is in string tone that the greatest enhancement over standard 44.1K/16 CDs can be heard. The performers are also spread out more graphically across the soundstage, with very clear spatial distinction between sections sharing the different themes. This disc should sound even better when I assemble my two additional frontal height speakers to review more of the MD&G 2+2+2 Aurophonie surround recordings.
A lesser known jazz pioneer gets a re-mastered vinyl upgrade.