Return – Sonora Slocum, flute / John Wilson, piano

Sonora Slocum was appointed Principal Flute of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in 2012 at the age of 22 and has performed with orchestras around the country including guest principal flute with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. She has appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra on flute and piccolo. Her collaborations as guest principal include touring and audio recordings with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra as well as visual recordings with the Philharmonia Orchestra of New York at Lincoln Center. Slocum has worked under such renowned conductors as Charles Dutoit, Christoph Eschenbach, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Sir Simon Rattle, Edo de Waart, Otto-Werner Mueller, John Williams and David Zinman, among many others. A recent review stated that “Slocum has a HUGE sound…and a wizard’s bag resplendent with technical prowess and musical freshness.” The conception of this debut album, Return, stemmed from Slocum’s interest in astrology and reflects on this period of her life; her first Saturn Return.

The tracks on this album represent both pivotal repertoire for flutists and some of the most technically demanding. Samuel Barber (1910-1981) spent a summer in Martha’s Vineyard where he wrote Canzone for flute and piano for his friend Manfred Ibel, a German art student and amateur flutist. Several years later Barber found a new application for the music as the second movement of his Piano Concerto, commissioned for the opening of Lincoln Center. The Suite Paysanne Hongroise by Béla Bartók is a perfect example of Bartók’s affinity for transcribing traditional folk songs and adapting them to a concert performance setting. Originally for solo piano, Paul Arma, a student of Bartók, transcribed most of the work for flute and piano in 1952. Copland’s Duo was commissioned by the Curtis Institute students of former Philadelphia Orchestra principal flutist and Curtis flute teacher, William Kincaid, and led to Sonora Slocum’s decision recording the album at Curtis, Slocum’s alma mater. Movement 1 has sweeping lyricism and broad, appealing musical themes while the second movement has a forlorn and lonely mood, poetic, and is somewhat mournful; the third is buoyant and dance-like to close to the work. Chopin was the first Western Classical composer to employ Slavic elements in his compositions. Nocturne in C-sharp minor, Op. Posthumous, originally for solo piano written in 1830, was published 21 years after his death in 1870. The work is sometimes called Reminiscence, fitting perfectly with the concept of this album. George Hüe’s Fantaisie is far from the realm of impressionism, showcasing the musical exploration of French composers at the turn of the century. The piece is dedicated to Paul Taffanel, a professor at the famous French flute school. Ballade by Swiss composer Frank Martin is a musical gem, written as an examination piece for the 1939 International Geneva Competition. The Ballade is a short, technical work for flute regarded as almost a ‘right of passage’ for flutists. Syrinx, by Claude Debussy, paints the story of the nymph Syrinx and the god Pan. Though the piece is rather short, it has been credited as a pivotal part of developing solo flute repertoire in the early twentieth century.

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Love So Amazing – The hymn arrangements of Stuart Forster – Michael S. Murray, conductor; Stuart Forster, organist

 Hymn singing is a foundation of the protestant churches, but not normally the subject of an album released worldwide. The musicianship presented here is singular, sung by two volunteer choirs with power and emotion. The inspired arrangements heard on this recording have developed over decades of working with wonderful choirs and congregations, as well as by singing with, and listening to, many inspired colleagues. Some of the descants were conceived for particular services, while other arrangements grew further for special occasions. Several of the brass arrangements were composed for the ordination and consecration of the Rt. Rev. Alan Gates as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts in 2014.

Australians Michael S. Murray and Stuart Forster, outstanding individual musicians, have worked together for more than 20 years, including conducting and accompanying in one another’s Episcopal churches, Christ Church in Cambridge and Church of the Redeemer in Chestnut Hill, located on opposite sides of the river Charles in Boston, Massachusetts, and during choir tours throughout America and Europe. Waiting and planning for the right moment to share their combined parish traditions of engaged singing from the vast legacy of hymnody bestowed upon the Anglican tradition has been fulfilled in this album. The installation of the exquisite Schoenstein organ at Church of the Redeemer, the restoration of the acoustic in Henry Vaughan’s exquisite architecture, and the publication of some of Stuart Forster’s hymn arrangements made the timing just right. What you will hear on this album is a superlative combined choir of about eighty voices singing some of the best-known hymns accompanied by a newly designed organ as they’ve never been heard before.

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New Jersey Chamber Singers & Orchestra Reid Masters, conductor – Mozart Requiem

This live recording features the New Jersey Chamber Singers 40th Anniversary concert celebration. The program is anchored by the Mozart Requiem and also features festive works of Haydn’s Te Deum  and Bach’s Reformation Cantata, Ein feste Burg, because 2018 also marked the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. While it is more common to hear these works performed by larger ensembles, this historically-informed performance honors the repertoire’s intimacy by only employing 32 voices and a similarly sized orchestra.

All three pieces on this album were touched by hands beyond those of their composers. While many purists have worked extensively to cleanse iconic works of foreign elements, this performance embraces them. Bach’s Ein feste Burg  proudly features the extra parts for three trumpets and timpani added by his son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. Haydn’s Te Deum  was written for Empress Marie Theresa even though he was employed to write music for the Esterhazy court in Eisenstadt. Even though the complete autograph is lost, trombone parts were later discovered to have been written in the hand of his copyist, Johann Elssler. So, it is probable that Haydn delivered a large-scale work including three trombones and three trumpets to the Empress, even though he performed a slightly down-sized version of the same work in Eisenstadt to accommodate the orchestral forces available to him. This recording boasts all extant parts. Finally and most famously, Mozart’s Requiem was completed by Süssmayr following his death in 1791.

This album honors a perspective in which early music is still a living art that is capable of change and worthy of exploration.

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Ellen Rose, viola & Kristin Ditlow, piano – Providence

The germ of the concept of this album for Ellen Rose, the recently retired first chair violist of the Dallas Symphony, and Kristin Ditlow, conductor, pianist extraordinaire and vocal coach, came due to a musician-colleague’s invitation to the duo to perform during the 2012-2013 season at the National Theater in Kunming, China (Yunnan Province), and the multi-city tour formed around that. The three-week tour of Beijing, Shanghai, and Kunming became the framework represented by this duo’s debut disc name, Providence. What followed immediately was the weaving together of three continents and years of planning out of the repertoire of that tour.

Boccherini’s Sonata No. 6 in A Major  is representative of the composer’s bringing violincello writing into more melodic and virtuosic milieu, here represented so wonderfully by a viola. Vaughan Williams’ Romance  is among several pieces discovered after the composer had passed away in 1958, but thought to have been composed in 1914. “Whither Must I Wander,” originally for piano and baritone from his song cycle Songs of Travel,  was arranged for the duo on this album by Ellen Rose and Kristin Ditlow, and is therefore a premiere recording. Enescu’s Concertstück  is a combination of his native Romania and Paris where he lived much of his life, with traces of Debussy and French impressionists and the theme from a lively Romanian folk dance. Messiaen’s “Louange,” composed in a French prison in 1941 for a quartet of musician prisoners, uses religious quotes or motives as well as bird calls, Messiaen being both a devout Catholic and an enthusaistic ornitholgist. Rebecca Clarke’s Sonata was the largest work on the China tour, her best-known work, and was written for a 1919 competition, in which she tied Ernest Bloch for first place with its combination of whole tone, octatonic and pentatonic scales as well as piano and string writing which shows great admiration for Debussy.

Ending the album with a Puccini aria from Tosca  coincides with using this piece as the encore from the China tour, an aria which has, as its sung last line, “I lived for art, I lived for love, I’ve never harmed a living soul!” There is no doubt that this album musically soothes and excites the soul with a vast combination of exquisite musical textures and stunning performances!

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Rutgers University Kirkpatrick Choir & Patrick Gardner, conductor – The Fire Within

The Fire Within brings three works to light, one World Premiere Recording, “Three Songs for Men’s Chorus” by composer Lou Harrison, and one a World Premiere, “Dark Night of the Soul” by composer Christopher Marshall, all performed by the internationally renowned Kirpatrick Choir of Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, conducted by the equally renowned Patrick Gardner. The third work which begins the album, Lou Harrison’s stirring “La Koro Sutro (The Heart’s Soul)” is a vibrant and moving piece with the choir accompanied by The American Gamelan. La Koro Sutra, a live performance recording, was described by Anthony Tommasini in the New York Times “The Best of 2017 – Classical Music” as “…one of the best musical moments of the year.”

Composer Lou Harrison had a life-long interest in the use of “found instruments” and those used in this recording appeared in his works of the 30s and 40s for percussion ensemble which he wrote while collaborating with John Cage. His later works were composed with highly chromatic music influenced heavily by Arnold Schoenberg. The 1971 piece featured here, La Koro Sutro, is a setting of the Buddhist Heart Suttra in Esperanto composed for an international congress of Esperanto speakers in San Francisco. The Three Songs for Men’s Chorus, a World Premiere Recording, are settings from the Book of Samuel and Walt Whitman’s “Calamus” in Leaves of Grass.

Finally, New Zealander Christopher Marshall’s work, “Dark Night of the Soul,” heard as a premiere recording, sets mystical text of St. John at the Cross with intricate rhythms of a beautiful lyrical melody with rich choral sonority. It is a perfect piece to end this extraordinary album.

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Baylor Bella Voce, Lynn Gackle, conductor and Jonathan Pinto, piano – The Unbroken Circle

Bella Voce is the select women’s ensemble at Baylor University. Organized in 2011 by their conductor Dr. Lynne Gackle, the ensemble performs a wide and interesting variety of choral selections, reflecting various style periods and genres from the vast choral repertoire featuring women’s voices. On this, the ensemble’s second CD, the selections are a stunning and complex presentation of classic and modern pieces, from Mendelssohn to some of the most brilliant new choral composers on the scene today, sung by one of the finest women’s ensembles in the nation, collegiate or professional.

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