HARBISON: Songs America Loves to Sing; MOZART: “Kegelstatt” Trio, K. 498; DELLO JOIO: Trio for Flute, Cello, and Piano; KENJI BUNCH: Slow Dance – Atlanta Chamber Players – MSR Classics

by | Dec 9, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

HARBISON: Songs America Loves to Sing; MOZART: “Kegelstatt” Trio, K. 498; DELLO JOIO: Trio for Flute, Cello, and Piano; KENJI BUNCH: Slow Dance – Atlanta Chamber Players – MSR Classics MS 1190, 72:47 ***1/2 [Distr. by Albany]:

This is the eighth release of the Atlanta Chamber Players, the 30-year old group having made a career of including not only the standards, but an admirable record of commissioning new works from modern composers. I can report faithfully that the sound on this release is very good concert hall style (Dozier Centre for the Performing Arts Kennesaw, Georgia), and the Players respond with some truly exceptional renditions of music for which they have great passion.

I wish I could share what they have in each instance. Kenji Bunch states that his Slow Dance is his “tribute to torch songs and their singers. The work could be thought of as the nostalgic ruminations of an old chanteuse who hasn’t endured quite enough booze and hard living for her to forget a happier, more innocent time.” Sounds like a nice concept, and the piece starts with great evocation, like a smoky lounge on a late afternoon, but he is unable to sustain the interest, morphing into a melodic sort of wistfulness that just doesn’t last over the 10-minute duration. Nevertheless, there are some fine moments…

Harbison’s piece is the main draw here, and the title of the CD, and he uses many different “famous” songs deeply ingrained in the psyche of Americana to exercise his considerable skill with canons and inventions. You will recognize most of these tunes, even in distended form, but in the end I am afraid that I found myself admiring the work’s cleverness more than actually enjoying the music. What a shame, as Harbison is one of our best composers and has proved his worth time and time again. The ACP commissioned this work and has played it all over the world. It is scored for the full ensemble (piano, violin, viola, cello, flute, and clarinet).

Norman Dello Joio is a composer I admire to no end; rarely have I heard any of his music that I did not enjoy, and I only hope that one day the music world will come to that same conclusion, that he was one of America’s finest artists. This wonderful Flute Trio is full of all sort of tricks, twist, and turns that go far beyond mere cleverness or technique; there is music-making of the highest order here, and I was enthralled at this piece, surely the main reason to hold onto this disc.

Finally the umpteen-times recorded Trio in B-flat by Mozart – indicated on the published score to be for piano, violin, and cello – but surely the suggested switch to clarinet instead of violin was the intended result, as Anton Stadler was in the Mozartian mix at the time, and the part lies well for the woodwind instrument. This is a fine performance, but needs exceptional merit to surpass any number of superb readings on the market. It cannot pass them, but certainly competes well with most of them, and I could be content with this one as an only recording.  So here you have it—half a program of considerable worth in excellent sound. Harbison fans will have to have it, all others will just have to do a little figuring…

— Steven Ritter

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