“George Walker: Great American Orchestral Works Vol. 4” = 1. Sinfonia No. 4 (Strands); Antifonys for String Orchestra; Lilacs for Voice and Orchestra; Movements for Cello and Orchestra – Dmitry Kousev, c./ Sinfonia de Camera/ David Epstein; Sinfonia Varsovia /Ian Hobson – Albany TROY1430, 55:52 [8/1/13] ***:
This disc is part of the Albany label’s Great American Orchestral Works. This is volume 4, featuring the music of George Walker. Walker is well-known in contemporary American music circles, and last year received the Aaron Copland Award from ASCAP. This collection features four works by Walker. The first is the Sinfonia number 4, subtitled Strands. First premiered last year, it’s been performed by four orchestras, including the Pittsburgh and Cincinnati symphonies.
Strand is a one movement piece, with driving rhythms and spotlighted sections with the winds and woodwinds. It’s an interesting work, bringing to mind some of the music of Persichetti and Neisen. Next is Antifonys for String Orchestra. The work was composed in 1967 for a double string quartet, seven winds and percussion. It’s an interesting and intense work, well-played by the Sinfonia Varsovia conducted by Ian Hobson. It has its own unique signature, but listeners who like the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra will find much to savor.
The third work on the disc is Lilacs for Voice and Orchestra. This was a composition commissioned by the Boston Symphony and is based on the Walt Whitman poem, When Lilacs in the Door-yard Boom’d. Lilacs received the Pulitzer Price for Music in 1996. It’s had few performances, but the one recorded here is precise and performed with energy. Finally the disc features Movements for Cello and Orchestra, a three-movement piece composed in 2012. Soloist Dmitry Kousov performs the piece well, along with the Sinfonia de Camera conducted again by Ian Hobson.
The disc is very well-recorded, with clean instrument positioning, and the right balance between spotlighting the instruments and letting the sound of the hall add some sheen. As has always been the case, the big familiar works sell the most titles. Most of us probably have multiple copies of the same works of Stravinsky, Beethoven, Mahler etc. So this disc gives one a chance to get off the well-trodden path and explore some music that is seldom heard but very worthwhile to consume.