GARY GRAFFMAN, PIANO, STANISLAW SKROWACZEWSKI AND THE MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA; Skrowaczewski, "Concerto Nicolo" for Piano Left Hand and Orchestra; Concerto for Orchestra (Reference Recordings) ***
The three flute concertos on Koch's CD by Alexa Still, James Sedares and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra offers listeners three quite different musical styles, ranging from Kathleen Hoover's mellifluous "Medieval Suite" to John Corigliano's dramatic "The Pied Piper Fantasy" to Chen Yi's intense "The Golden Flute."
Each work is played with a self-assuredness by flutist Still, who shows remarkable artistry both in technique and in expression. She is accompanied by conductor James Sedares and the New Zealand Symphony, and the collaboration between soloist and orchestra is notable for its fine balance and articulate interaction.
Of the three works, Chen's is by far the most original. There is a subtle co-mingling between Eastern and Western idioms in "The Golden Flute," which gives the three-movement work its unique flavor.
"The Pied Piper Fantasy" shows Corigliano at his most colorful and descriptive in terms of orchestration and melodic inventiveness. Originally written for James Galway, the flute part is especially intricate, and Still shows off her technical mastery to the fullest.Hoover's "Medieval Suite" is the most conventional of the three, yet it has moments of originality, as in the evocative opening movement. However, the work is quite clearly, and too directly, modeled on the music of Howard Hanson and Walter Piston.
STANISLAW SKROWACZEWSKI shows in his music an indebtedness to expressionism. His works reflect the intense, brooding character of fin-de-siecle Vienna and invoke the spirit of early, pre-12-tone, Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg. The orchestrations tend to be heavy, yet there is a fluidity to Skrowaczewski's music that makes it eloquently articulate.
Reference Recordings has recently released an album with two of Skrowaczewski's more recent works, the "Concerto Nicolo" and the Concerto for Orchestra.
"Concerto Nicolo" for Piano Left Hand was written for Gary Graffman, who lost the use of his right hand two decades ago. The work is loosely based on Paganini's famous 24th Caprice in A minor, hence the title. But the occasional quotes of the Paganini theme are only a minor part of the whole. It's a dramatic work in which piano and orchestra are closely interwoven. And Graffman gives a superb performance that carries the work.
The Concerto for Orchestra has two distinct movements. The first is ominous and evocative, while the second (titled "Anton Bruckners Himmelfart," "Anton Bruckner's Heavenly Journey") is an homage to the great Austrian composer. It conveys the sense of the epic proportions found in Bruckner's music but it doesn't slavishly imitate him. If anything, it is a wonderfully constructed and richly textured essay that faintly recalls Bruckner's idiomatic writing and harmonic language.Both works are sumptuously played by the Minnesota Orchestra under the baton of the composer, who led the ensemble as its music director for 20 years.
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