“New World Serenade” – BYRON ADAMS: Serenade; OLIVER CAPLAN: Lunastella Fuga; JOHN CORIGLIANO: Snapshot: Circa 1909; PISTON: Divertimento; ZWILICH: Prologue and Variations – Sinfonietta of Riverdale/ Mark Mandarano – Albany

by | Jul 9, 2016 | Classical CD Reviews

“New World Serenade” – BYRON ADAMS: Serenade for Nine Instruments; OLIVER CAPLAN: Lunastella Fuga; JOHN CORIGLIANO: Snapshot: Circa 1909; WALTER PISTON: Divertimento for Nine Instruments; ELLEN TAAFFE ZWILICH: Prologue and Variations – Sinfonietta of Riverdale/ Mark Mandarano – Albany RR7904, 62:52 (4/01/16) ****:

Very diverse and rewarding collection of works for chamber orchestra.

The Sinfonietta of Riverdale is a very fine chamber orchestra under the direction of the young talented Mark Mandarano. They are based in New York and perform at the Riverdale Temple. This is apparently their first recording and CD release and is quite rewarding! The director, Mark Mandarano seems like a very interesting and well-prepared conductor, having held positions with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, the American Symphony Orchestra, the Westchester Philharmonic and the Bard Festival. Mark has trained with several of the most important people out there including Esa-Pekka Salonen, Christoph von Dohnányi, Mstislav Rostropovich, Sir Roger Norrington, Valery Gergiev, Paul Dunkel, Leon Botstein, Carl St. Clair, Osmo Vänskä and Leonard Slatkin. Mandarano is also the Director of Instrumental Music at Macalaster College. I think, in many ways, this CD is about Riverdale and Mandarano.
The music, itself, is quite rewarding and fairly diverse. This is an all-American program and covers several generations of composers and styles. Walter Piston’s 1946 Divertimento is a brief and delightful work, premiered by Mitropoulos. It is a buoyant and upbeat work that stands in contrast from many of Piston’s other works from the war years.

John Corigliano and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich have been two of America’s preeminent composers for several decades now. Zwilich’s Prologue and Variations is a fine work that contains a bit of drama and mystery. The “Prologue” in this case serves to set up musical motives that get developed throughout the rest of the piece. The most intriguing aspect of Corigliano’s piece is the title and the related source of inspiration. It is apparently an old photograph of Corigliano’s father, as a child, playing the violin with John’s uncle, Peter, (several years older) accompanying the composer’s father on guitar. This was originally a quartet and later arranged for the Riverdale Sinfonietta. The resulting work, Snapshot, is quite interesting and contains some of Corigliano’s trademark flourish tinged with nostalgia.

I found the works by Byron Adams and Oliver Caplan interesting as well, largely because these composers are new to me. Adams has worked a lot in America and England and his work has been performed at several international festivals and colleges. His Serenade for Nine Instruments was written in homage to Karel Husa, who was also Adams’ teacher at Cornell. There are features reminiscent of Husa’s work in the Serenade and the net effect is a lovely four movement work that exhibits touches of exuberance as well as melancholy.

Oliver Caplan’s Lunastella Fuga is a brief but buoyant fugue that takes its inspiration from stellar constellations and even the concept of fractals. In listening, it is hard to escape the tell-tale sound of the fugue. In spots, this work even sounded a bit like Hindemith but it is quite enjoyable. Caplan is native to New York and trained at Dartmouth and the Boston Conservatory.

While all these works are interesting, enjoyable and entertaining I do think the main reason to acquire this recording is to get to know the very talented and well-developed Riverdale Sinfonietta. Their work has previously – I believe – only existed as downloads and is well worth checking out.

—Daniel Coombs

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