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Berry: Symphony No 3, Cello Concerto / Kuchar, Hanousek

Berry / Hanousek / Faur / Jpo / Kuchar
Release Date: 03/25/2008 
Label:  Centaur Records   Catalog #: 2898  
Composer:  Charles Roland Berry
Performer:  Jiri HanousekGabriel Faur
Conductor:  Theodore KucharJoel Eric Suben
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Janácek Philharmonic OrchestraMoravian Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BERRY Cello Concerto. 1 Symphony No. 3, “Celestial.” 2 Mariners Fanfare for Edgar Martinez. 2 Veery Thrush with Cedars. 2 Quileute Overture 3 Theodore Kuchar, cond; 1,2 Joel Eric Suben, cond; 3 Read more Ji?í Hanousek (vc); 1 Gabriel Faur (vc); 3 Janá?ek PO; 1,2 Moravian PO 3 CENTAUR 2898 (77:00)

Charles Roland Berry (b. 1957) is an American composer currently living in Seattle. He studied serial techniques with Peter Racine Friker and later form and orchestration with Paul Creston, who taught him the theories of composition that he had developed during his lifetime of work. It was this later influence that was apparently most congenial, since Berry’s approach to composition has obviously been influenced significantly by his latter mentor, especially in his strong rhythmic drive and his use of non-standard, but usually easy-to-follow forms. One can also hear strong echoes of Copland in his populist mode, especially in the use of open chords and in the American folk qualities of some of Berry’s melodies. Berry declares his purpose is to write accessible music that can be appreciated by anyone who enjoys standard concert repertoire. This he achieves very well. These are big-hearted, melodic, and easily grasped works, but they are by no means simplistic, nor do they pander to a popular taste. I have listened to the works on this CD several times and have grown to appreciate them more with each listening. That is not something to be taken for granted in contemporary compositions designed to be accessible. I find many of them have given me all they have to offer long before the first hearing has ended.

The program begins with the brief but high-spirited Mariners Fanfare for Edgar Martinez . There are no notes included on the compositions themselves, but I assume this piece was written in honor of the great batter who played for many years for Seattle’s major-league baseball team. Martinez retired from the Mariners in 2004, so this may be a farewell tribute.

The Cello Concerto, the longest and most notable of the works on this disc, is laid out in a four-movement format more commonly found in symphonies. In fact, the overall impression is of an exuberant symphony with the rhapsodic cello part often weaving in and out of the orchestral discourse. The open spaces/Americana feel of the work is attractive and Berry’s development of the material creative and engaging. The solo cello has greater prominence here than would be possible in the concert hall, but the slightly unnatural balance does not detract from the enjoyment of the work. Ji?í Hanousek phrases the soaring melodies of his challenging part with great warmth and sensitivity.

The Symphony No. 3 “Celestial” memoriam to James Marshall Berry is, as the subtitle would suggest, a more personal work. Berry describes the prevailing mood as “calm and optimistic” in notes he wrote for the Sigma Alpha Iota Music Fraternity Web site. Those qualities are certainly present, but I’m more struck by the ecstatic quality of the music. Here is music that communicates intense delight without becoming maudlin or overstated. I didn’t know that was done anymore. It is not, alas, a perfect work. The development of the theme leading to the climax of the Andante movement gets a bit tedious. The quasi-fugal section of the third movement threatens to do the same, when it is suddenly rescued by one of the more Coplandesque moments leading into the wonderfully affirmative finale. But I am quibbling here. In truth, the more I hear the work, the more I am moved by it. I do not know who James Marshall Berry was, but this work leaves no doubt of the deep love the composer felt for him.

The program ends with two contrasting shorter works. Veery Thrush with Cedars is a sort of Pacific Northwest Lark Ascending , with an extended part for what sounds like an alto clarinet. Too bad the unnamed soloist is not more proficient, as the thin, hollow tone and occasionally uncertain pitch detracts from an attractive and unusual work. Quileute Overture for cello and orchestra documents a trip to La Push, Washington, home of the Quileute Indian tribe. Berry describes the area as “between the mountains and the sea, a stormy place, which gave rise to myths of the Thunderbird.” The storms are not to be heard, but Berry’s delight with the experience certainly is, and he creates an exotic Western soundscape without the music ever sounding stereotypically Native American. Cellist Gabriel Faur, also too closely recorded, plays with passion and fine technique, especially in the cadenza-like section near the end of the work.

It is sad that it was apparently infeasible to record these works in this country, but the playing of the two Czech orchestras is committed and generally highly skilled and the two conductors draw idiomatic performances from their forces. The Symphony was marred by occasionally unsteady horns and the Fanfare gave the trumpets a challenge to which they weren’t absolutely equal, but none of this distracts the listener significantly. I already mentioned the lack of notes on the music. There is, however, a fair amount of biographical material, as well as information on the performers. Except for the close solo miking, the sound is excellent—open and wide range. There are more Centaur releases promised and I look forward to hearing them. In the meantime, I am downloading four works that Berry has generously made available at download.com. Do I need to say highly recommended?

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames

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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 3 by Charles Roland Berry
Conductor:  Theodore Kuchar
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Concerto for Cello by Charles Roland Berry
Performer:  Jiri Hanousek (Cello)
Conductor:  Theodore Kuchar
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Mariners Fanfare for Edgar Martinez by Charles Roland Berry
Conductor:  Theodore Kuchar
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Veery Thrush with Cedars by Charles Roland Berry
Conductor:  Theodore Kuchar
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Quileute Overture for Cello and Orchestra by Charles Roland Berry
Performer:  Gabriel Faur (Cello)
Conductor:  Joel Eric Suben
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 

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