There are three volumes in the "Modern Masters" series, seriously enterprising releases by Harmonia mundi France. One of my favorite discs of all time, "Modern Masters III" (1991), I posted months ago, indeed it was my introduction to the music of my friend Arnold Rosner. That recording had an impact on me like no other, needless to say. All three volumes are worth having, and these discs were
extremely rare until Kleos decided to re-release them a few years ago (Volumes II and III exist, I don't recall if Kleos got around to Volume I, I believe the re-releasing was done in reverse order).
Conductor David Amos has focused on championing the music of America’s traditionalist composers of the twentieth century, and has recorded hundreds of compositions from this rich stream. These have included lesser-known works by Nicolas Flagello, Arnold Rosner, Paul Creston, Vincent Persichetti, Vittorio Giannini and Ernest Bloch among many others. He has been something of a jobbing nomad and has worked with many of the world’s leading orchestras, including the London Symphony, the Israel Philharmonic, the Royal Philharmonic, the Polish Radio, and the Jerusalem Symphony. He is the founder and music director of the TICO Orchestra of San Diego. He began his musical studies in Mexico City, continuing at San Diego State University, before pursuing doctoral studies at the University of Indiana. In addition to conducting, he has hosted and produced a long-running radio series on contemporary music, and writes a regular music column for the San Diego Jewish Times. He is in frequent demand as a lecturer, guest conductor, and adjudicator in music competitions.
David Ward-Steinman's "Concerto No. 2 for Chamber Orchestra" was a Sherwood Hall, La Jolla commission and is very well crafted, busy and oft dervish-like, evidently written with affectionate obeisance to Stravinsky and "Pulcinella" in the outer movements, which are skitterish and great fun. The middle movement, marked "very slow" is a beauty, with nostalgic Americana in a Copland-esque vein. It is scored for string orchestra with percussion, and single woodwind and brass. "Every instrument is treated soloistically at one time or another, including the principle strings", according to the composer, "and the various choirs are themselves often independent and pitted one against the other-hence the title". A great opener indeed..
Paul Turok has flown so far under the radar, you won't find even a Wikipedia entry on him. Turok’s sombre "Threnody" for String Orchestra Op. 54 is a short work that I think is pretty effective as a song of lament, and the musical language reminds me of another obscure composer, the Hungarian Odeon Partos-they could be musical twins it seems to me. "Threnody" was premiered in Seattle in January, 1980.
Norman Dello Joio's "Lyric Fantasies for Viola and Strings" is a ripely reflective discursively lyrical piece. The sound of the solo viola, accompanied by string sonorities which range between strong harmonic support and soft murmuring create the mood of the piece. The "Lyric Fantasies" are more than just a virtuoso work for viola and strings; aside from the melodic exchanges between the viola and the string ensemble, the writing has very varied and expressive moments. Indeed, as a complete entity, the Fantasies are a strong statement and a major contribution to the solo viola literature with orchestral accompaniment. Like much of Dello Joio this piece has depth and grows on you quickly. Quite an exciting and beautiful work I think.
Henry Cowell’s "Hymn for Strings" is concentrated, rounded, prayerfully invocational, serious and more 'Tallis-like' than the Dello Joio, with something of the weighty passion of Hovhaness’s ethereal string writing about it. Cowell composed a whole series of gorgeous stylistically like-minded works called "Hymn and Fuguing Tunes" which are lyrical, modal gems to my ears. I shall have to remember to post a Cowell disc on CPO that offers several pieces from the "Fuguing" series.
The "Hymn" is both simple and gorgeous.
Paul Creston wrote his gorgeous and so very likable "Partita for Flute, Violin, and String Orchestra" Op. 12, in 1937. His indebtedness to Baroque music is reflected in the use of suite movements, concerto grosso musical texture, rhythmic ostinato, and long spun-out melodies. These musical principles, combined with modern compositional techniques, result in an engaging blend of old and new. This early work of Creston contains a freshness and vitality that would characterize his entire musical output. -Delos records did a great service in the 1990's releasing Paul Creston's symphonies and other works, as they did with Walter Piston, David Diamond (one of best Stateside 20th century composers, a favorite of mine, and ridiculously under-appreciated), Howard Hanson and others.