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American Orchestral Works.

American Orchestral Works. Carlos Kalmar, Grant Park Orchestra. Cedille 90000 090.

This album of contemporary American orchestral works includes five relatively short pieces that are advertised as making their recording premieres. I must admit I didn't care overmuch for many of them, which may explain why they have never been recorded before, but I must also admit that there are parts of some of them that are distinctly worth pursuing.

Things begin with a kaleidoscopic affair by composer Barbara Kolb, a ten-minute morsel called All in Good Time (1994). It's supposed to represent a rhythmic development of time, and it does indeed stop and start quite a lot on its way to its end. Fortunately, there are a few cute surprises along the way and it makes for some fascinating listening. This piece is followed, though, by two rather gloomy works, Aaron Jay Kernis's Sarabanda in Memoriam (1997) and Michael Hersch's Ashes of Memory (1999). Call me a barbarian, but I found no solace, comfort, joy, or life in them whatsoever; maybe I wasn't supposed to, given their titles. I know the usual retort to such a criticism is to say that I simply didn't understand the music. I'll accept that. I didn't understand it, and I didn't like it.

John Corigliano's Midsummer Fanfare (2004) I did like, though. It's quite energetic, once it gets underway, quite festive and confident. The final piece on the disc is the longest at twenty-two minutes and perhaps the most conventional, John Harbison's four-movement Partita for Orchestra (2000).

The booklet note explains that the word "partita" has come to mean different things through the centuries, but that Harbison uses it in several ways, as a game, a playing with the music, and as a dance suite. The piece alternates sweet, lyrical passages, playful ones, and moody ones, ending on a fairly spirited note. It's fun, and, as I say, I enjoyed it.

I have come to expect good things from Cedille Records and anything engineered or co-engineered by Bill Maylone, and I was not disappointed. The audio is exemplary. The orchestral sound is vivid, clear, vibrant, and open, with plenty of dynamic range and impact. In fact, the sound is so good it made even the downbeat Kernis and Hersch pieces more pleasurable to listen to.
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Author:Puccio, John
Publication:Sensible Sound
Date:May 1, 2007
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