Soundtracks: November 1999

There are over 60 American composers featured in this month’s round-up of new recordings, which is a wonderful way to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the American Music Center this month! And, as always, the range of composers shows an astonishing array of diversity.

Perhaps the most momentous release this month is the long-awaiting 10-CD John Adams Earbox, a retrospective of his remarkably fruitful swith Nonesuch. Nonesuch’s commitment to the music of John Adams hearkens back to the days of Stravinsky and Copland at Columbia Masterworks and John Coltrane at Impulse. Would that more living American composers had such enduring relationships with record companies!

Mode’s commitment to the music of John Cage began shortly before his death, but has continued unabated since then with a seemingly-endless plethora of releases. The latest, their 19th, features Five3 – a microtonal tour-de-force for trombone and string quartet composed only a year before Cage’s death. Innova’s commitment to the music of the late microtonal pioneer Harry Partch continues on a high note with the long-awaited CD re-issue of the legendary Columbia Masterworks recording of his 1966 masterpiece Delusion of the Fury. Of similar historic magnitude is a CRI release of Charles Ives‘s complete recordings at the piano which shed new light on his eccentric genius.

Another long-awaited CD release is George Crumb’s Star Child, a large-scale work from the late 1970s for chorus and orchestra which is a joy to hear in a professional recording. (The bootlegs floating around articulate the work’s greatness but are definitely less than a pleasant listening experience!) Several other legendary American composers receive definitive new recordings this month including the great jazz arranger Thad Jones and Igor Stravinsky. You may quibble that Stravinsky is not an American composer but he was a naturalized U.S. citizen and lived here longer than anywhere else. A highlight of the new CD by longtime Stravinsky accolade Robert Craft features the Danses concertantes, the first work Stravinsky composed in America.

All of Joan Tower’s Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman have finally been assembled onto one CD which is appropriate in the birth month of Aaron Copland, one of the six founders of the American Music Center.

November is a great month for fans of contemporary art songs. New World has issued Ned Rorem’s massive new song-cycle Evidence of Things Not Seen, sung by members of the New York Festival of Song, and BMG has issued the first-ever CD of songs by the San Francisco Opera’s Composer-In-Residence Jake Heggie, sung by a “can’t go wrong” all-star cast including Frederica von Stade, Renée Fleming, Sylvia McNair, Jennifer Larmore and Brian Asawa. Leonard Lehrman accompanies Helene Williams on a disc featuring new songs by ten American composers on a new Capstone CD and Music Text, another Capstone disc, features acoustic and electro-acoustic song-cycles based on the poetry of William Carlos Williams, Pablo Neruda, John Ashbury and P. Inman.

Continuing the vocal bounty, the first-ever all-Robert X. Rodríguez disc offers sizable extracts from two of his musical theatre works. The Dale Warland Singers[Britten & Bernstein CD] offer stirring accounts of choral works by a variety of composers. Jazz vocalist Mary LaRose offers a disc of stunning jazz vocal versions of tunes by Anthony Braxton, Eric Dolphy and Led Zeppelin as well as a not-to-be-believed jazz spin on Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament,” which though even more breath-taking live, comes across quite effectively on disc.

Several new releases continue ongoing NewMusicBox themes. A disc culling the highlights from the 7th Sonic Circuits Festival comes a month after our technology issue and proves that there is no last word on the subject. A La Par, a new CD by the Lawrence Conservatory Contemporary Music Ensemble, features music by Tania León who was the subject of In The First Person this past August. And the new José Serebrier CD is an excellent example of a composer taking charge as the conductor of his own works on a disc featuring three orchestral works.

Finally, the classical guitar is an inspiration for some unlikely composers this month: Gunther Schuller, the father of third-stream music and Terry Riley, the father of minimalism. Yet Riley’s pieces really no longer qualify as minimalist and Schuller’s work doesn’t sound third-stream, although a new CD of works for jazz combo and string quartet by Ted Nash perfectly fits that bill. . .but listen for yourself, there are RealAudio samples for every disc featured this month!

You might also enjoy…