The three albums reviewed below all have a local connection. The first two feature musicians who now make Utah their home, and the third is the premiere recording of a piece that received its first performance by the Utah Symphony Chamber Orchestra last fall.
• IT'S A NOVEL IDEA to present Arnold Schoenberg's influence on American music. Schoenberg spent the last 18 years of his life in the United States, and his influence here has largely been overlooked. But as violinist and University of Utah faculty member Hasse Borup shows in "American Fantasies," a gorgeously fashioned CD, Schoenberg's impact on a young, post-World War II generation of composers in this country was immense.
The starting point for this album is Schoenberg's Phantasy for Violin with Piano Accompaniment, op. 47, his last major work, written two years before his death in 1951. The rest of the CD contains music by American composers who either studied with Schoenberg or were influenced by his groundbreaking, 12-tone technique. And what makes this album so fascinating is that every composer represented here has a very different approach to it, and this turns the album into a wonderful, if only partial, overview of American music from the second half of the 20th century and into the start of the 21st.
The composers on the album are John Cage (his almost mystical "Six Melodies for Violin and Keyboard"); Gunther Schuller (his harsh sounding "Recitative and Rondo"); Donald Harris (an austere Fantasy for Violin and Piano); Leon Kirchner (the rather strict sounding, yet lyrical, "For Solo Violin" and Duo No. 2); and Jean Coulthard (his expressive and tonally oriented "Day-dream").
• CELLIST VIKTOR UZUR, who teaches at Weber State University, and pianist Vadim Serebryany are longtime collaborators, and their remarkable partnership comes through in their album "In Recital," a live recording of performances that took place in Lansing, Mich., in 2005.
This is a substantive album. The only piece that could be considered musical fluff is the final piece (obviously an encore at the concerts), Alfredo Piatti's "Caprice" for Solo Cello, op. 25, no. 5.
Other than that, Uzur has chosen a solid program spotlighting two heavyweights in the cello repertoire: Johannes Brahms' Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major, op. 99, and Dmitri Shostakovich's Cello Sonata, op. 40.
The Brahms is given a forcefully impassioned reading that captures the rich romanticism and emotional fire of the music wonderfully. The three Allegro movements are charged with kinetic energy, while the Adagio is gorgeously crafted and eloquently played.
The Shostakovich, on the other hand, is poignant, heartwrenching and utterly mesmerizing. Uzur and Serebryany give a compelling reading that is emotionally charged and captivating.
• AUGUSTA READ THOMAS' "Terpsichore's Dream" was premiered last October by the Utah Symphony Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Cliff Colnot. And Colnot conducts the performance on this CD, this time with a pick up orchestra consisting of musicians from the Chicago area.
"Terpsichore's Dream" is an evocative, atmospheric piece that is filled with subtle lyricism and rhythmic vitality. It's the kind of piece that appeals to both musicians, because it spotlights them individually and sectionally, and to audiences, because of its irresistible infectiousness.