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reviews

Ken Smith reviews Moran’s Trinity Requiem: ‘It keeps to a vocabulary as simple as one could conceive without trivialising 9/11, speaking with quiet power’ REVIEW ON PAGE XI

sounds of america

Donald Rosenberg reviews Bartók ’s String Quartet No 4 ‘The Borromeo seize the ears with painstaking adherence to dynamics, accents, texture and telepathic interplay’ REVIEW ON PAGE XI

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Aikman ‘Venice of the North Concerti’ Violin Concerto, ‘Lines in Motion’ a . Ania’s Song: A Pavane for String Orchestra. Saxophone Concerto b b Taimur Sullivan asax a Charles Wetherbee vn St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra / Vladimir Lande Naxos American Classics S 8 559720 (55’ • DDD)

Two bold new concertos, and some Polish nostalgia Two big new concertos in a conservative Technicolor idiom are nothing to be sneezed at. When Jennifer Koh played Menotti’s Violin Concerto at the Lammermuir Festival earlier this year, the audience cheered the colourful orchestration and full-hearted lyricism, and there is no reason to believe that audiences in general wouldn’t respond to those same qualities in the music of James Aikman (b1959). This could easily be a best-seller in the USA if there were any mechanism to make innovative American composers the talk of the town.

The two concertos are meditative, deeply focused pieces in which the soloist is pitted against a continually evolving kaleidoscopic orchestral backdrop. Both offer the soloist opportunities to dig deep into their reserves and encourage them to give their all; it’s that kind of enthusiastic, generous music. The soloists, both of whom are spectacular, sound as if they were members of the orchestra themselves. Ania’s Song – 10 minutes’ quiet visit with a friend’s fond, not-so-gentlyromantic remembrances of old Poland, originally for string quartet – makes an ideal interlude between two wonderful concertos.

Aikman’s ability to fashion a unique, vaguely American populist sound from the bewildering number and varieties of traditional, jazz and pop influences on which he unabashedly draws, leads him to write: ‘Nothing is anachronistic. All [his italics] is vocabulary.’ Writing such persuasively easygoing music, however, cannot have been mere child’s play. The CD’s title refers to the special relationship between Aikman and Vladimir Lande, conductor of the St Petersburg State Symphony, one of Naxos’s Russian orchestras, which has seemingly developed into an international touring enterprise. The music was written for and recorded by the orchestra in the city of ‘Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and others’, which has inspired some outstanding music-making. The strings occasionally seem thin and microphone placement creates some noticeable imbalance when Sullivan is playing out and loud. Laurence Vittes

Barber . Dvořák . Griffes Barber String Quartet, Op 11 Dvořák String Quartet No 12, ‘American’, Op 96 Griffes Two Sketches based on Indian Themes Cypress Quartet Cypress Performing Arts Association F (52’ • DDD)

Three quartets offering portraits of America Here is Dvo∑ák that is refreshingly free from conventional interpretative influences. Instead of the customary ritard before the big second theme in the first movement, there is a flow of music as generous as from a brook in spring. Instead of the customary ‘bounce’ to the dance that opens the last movement, the San Francisco-based Cypress Quartet find a generous simplicity that is in keeping with their optimistic, big-hearted personality. Theirs is Dvo∑ák of the wide-open American prairie, far from the sophistication of the composer’s beloved Prague or even cosmopolitan New York City where he lived. The Cypress Quartet’s sheer instrumental mastery engages so seamlessly with the music’s best intentions that touches, such as the cellist’s brilliant way with the pizzicati in the third movement’s Trio, would go almost unnoticed were if not for Mark Willsher’s superlative recording, made at Skywalker Sound.

The first of Griffes’s Two Sketches based on Indian Themes, premiered seven months after the composer’s now increasingly lamented death at 35, is haunting music that once heard can never be forgotten – particularly the opening where eerie harmonies fretting under high violin held notes transform into a gorgeous viola solo. The second movement careens uncertainly between serious exuberance and regretful sentiment.

The complete Barber Quartet, from which the famous Adagio is so often excerpted, is becoming a far more often-heard commodity. In fact, the Adagio’s great expression of

Instrumental mastery: the Cypress Quartet gramophone.co.uk

GRAMOPHONE DECEMBER 2011 IX