“Together” – ASSAD: Impressions; PIAZZOLLA: Four Seasons of Buenos Aires; BARTOK: Romanian Folk Dances; GERSHWIN: Bess You Is My Woman Now – New Century Chamber Orchestra/Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg – NSS Music, 59:57 [Distr. by Allegro] *****:
BARTOK: Divertimento; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste; Romanian Folk Dances – Les Violons du Roy/Jean-Marie Zeitouni – Atma Classique ACD2 2576, 1 hr. [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
String orchestras are a special breed. Some play all the notes correctly but just don’t convey the life in them, and others play better but are short-changed by recording quality. Neither of these CDs suffer from either problem – both are committed and with emotionally-communicative groups of players.
This was the first CD issued by the San Francisco Bay Area string orchestra known as the New Century Chamber Orchestra under their then-new director, famed solo violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. They decided to present it with strictly strings and no other instruments, whereas Les Violons – based in Québec – added harp, piano and percussion. Since both discs present the Bartok Romanian Dances – usually heard in the piano and violin version – an interesting comparison is possible between the groups. Although the NCCO lacks the added non-string instruments, their performance of the Bartok has more snap and excitement, and is more closely recorded with greater impact.
This is the world premiere of Clarice Assad’s Impressions Suite. She’s the daughter of one of the talented Brazilian guitarist-composer duo The Assad Brothers – with whom Salerno-Sonnenberg tours in a violin/two guitars trio. The work was commissioned by the NCCO and is based on the composer’s own impressions of the chamber orchestra. In its opening Theme & Variations movement the five individual sections of the orchestra are highlighted. Piazzolla’s answer to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was not originally intended as that, having been four separate pieces composed apart from one another. Violinist Gidon Kremer had arranger reconstruct the four pieces into a suite, even using a few quotations from Vivaldi “to build bridges between these two different geniuses.” Both are equally virtuosic and programmatic scores, though one is describing Venice and the other Buenos Aires.
Both Bartok’s Divertimento and his Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste had been written especially for the Basle Chamber Orchestra in the mid-30s. The Divertimento was the later work, eschewing additional instruments than the basic string orchestra. Bartok composed it at a Swiss chalet in the Bernese Alps. The rural setting is reflected in the original peasant/folk flavors of its first and last movements. Les Violons du Roy needs the additional percussion and celeste for the second Bartok work. While not as massive-sounding as some of the fuller orchestra recorded versions, this one by the Violons du Roy has an intimacy and in a way a more mysterious and threatening tone than the full orchestra versions.
— John Sunier