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Hailstork: As Falling Leaves, Etc / Virginia Chamber Players

Release Date: 01/27/2004 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 612   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Adolphus Hailstork
Performer:  Charles WoodwardBeverly BakerMichael DanielsJennifer Snyder,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Virginia Chamber Players
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 19 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HAILSTORK As Falling Leaves.1-3 Sanctum.2,4 Arabesques.1,5 String Quartet No. 1.6 2 Romances for Viola and Chamber Ensemble1-3,6 1Debra Cross (fl); 2Beverly Baker (va); 3Barbara Chapman (hp); Read more class="SUPER12">4Charles Woodward (pn); 5Robert Cross (perc); 6Vahn Armstrong (vn); 6Amanda Gate-Armstrong (vn); 6Jennifer Snyder (va); 6Michael Daniels (vc) ALBANY 612 (79:23)

This album of Hailstork’s chamber music, titled As Falling Leaves, came out in 2003 (by the time you read this, nearly a decade ago!) but was never reviewed in Fanfare. Like all of this fine composer’s music, it is largely tonal, largely cheerful, yet full of harmonic and melodic twists and devices that keep it from sounding ordinary.

The opening track, like the same composer’s Armageddon (reviewed elsewhere in this issue), was written as a paean to the victims of the 9/11 attack (I wonder if Hailstork is the only composer to write two pieces commemorating this disaster?), this time commemorating those who chose to leap to their deaths rather than be burned to death by the 2,000-degree heat of the inferno around them. But this time, Hailstork focuses on the private thoughts of each victim facing that awful choice, thus the music—though somewhat edgy and disturbing—is actually quite lyrical, even peaceful and lilting. A strange juxtaposition of horrid event and peaceful inner thoughts? Perhaps, but the music itself cannot be questioned; it is an exceptionally fine peace, possibly one in which each victim found his or her inner peace before leaping off into space. Into the supposed quietude we eventually hear disquieting elements, but they are quickly subjugated into the overall ambience of the piece.

Sanctum is described by the composer as the third of his “cathedral” pieces, the other two being Songs of Isaiah for chorus and orchestra and Sonata da Chiesa for string orchestra, reflecting his early years as a chorister at the Cathedral of All Saints in Albany, New York. Specifically, Sanctum represents, for Hailstork, the comparative quietude as well as the feeling of sanctuary within the cathedral walls. Like all of his extended works, it is divided into sections despite their being played sequentially without a break: (1) Viola introduction, (2) Entry of the piano and a dialogue between them, (3) Intricate florid writing for both instruments, (4) A slow, serene melody over quiet chords, and (5) A final agitated outburst which eventually settles into (6) A quiet coda. Naturally, considering the inspiration for this work, the music is essentially lyrical and serene. One of the more interesting qualities I find in Hailstork’s music is that it never seems to be virtuosic solely for the sake of virtuosity; his music always means something, so that when one does eventually encounter rapid, virtuosic passages, they have meaning as well as function. Ironically, considering the stated inspiration of the work, I found just as much turbulence here (especially in the second part of the work) as in As Falling Leaves, but after this section most of the remaining music is indeed serene.

Arabesques, written for the odd combination of flute and percussion, came about because flautist Debra Cross commissioned it as a surprise anniversary present for her husband, Rob. Hailstork wisely wrote most of the “percussion” part for two very melodic instruments, vibraphone and xylophone, in order to provide thematic material for both partners rather than just being a flute solo with drums. Again, Hailstork chooses music that is both melodic and (because this is for flute) scalar, while much of the writing for vibes concentrates on the sustained chord effect that instrument can create. In the third section, aptly titled “An angular, disjointed movement for both,” Hailstork moves Rob Cook from the melodic percussion instruments to the tympani, and again the music features much more substantive content than sheer virtuosity. The following duo between flute and xylophone, for instance, is insistently playful and syncopated, while the “exotic dance” which ends the little suite is more of a hip-swinger than exotic to my ears!

Hailstork also introduces a great deal of syncopation into the first movement of his string quartet, despite an elegiac middle section. There’s an unusual quality about the Adagio: it almost sounds like an aria transcribed for strings. Not too surprisingly, Hailstork based it on a song he wrote for the choir he directs at the Unitarian Church of Norfolk. Although the composer states that all the other movements grew out of that melody, the third actually has a very busy flurry of activity, very much like one of Bartók’s scherzos but with only a bit of the latent dissonance of Magyar folk music. The Allegretto is, perhaps, a shade less exuberant than I might have liked it, but I suppose that a quartet could choose to play it a shade quicker than it is here.

Hailstork has written his Two Romances in two versions, one for orchestra and the other for chamber ensemble. The latter version is the one we hear on this disc, scored for flute, harp, and strings. Although Hailstork essentially uses a string quartet here, the instruments are scored more like a small string section, meaning there is less dialogue and more of an ensemble between the soloists—though the strings do indeed sometimes function as soloists. Again and again, one is struck by the exquisite beauty of Hailstork’s melodic gift. (Is he really a bel canto composer in disguise?) And I reiterate: although this music is tonal and melodic, it is not “cheap” like the musical wallpaper one so often hears at Sunday brunches. Indeed, the various strands of the music here—particularly the harp and flute notes—almost drop in like well-placed seasoning on a particularly delectable meal. It is almost as if the music has “collected” itself, note by note and strand by strand, to make something analogous to a pile of leaves.

The musicians involved here, all members of the Virginia Chamber Players, perform splendidly for the most part, although in As Falling Leaves I felt that the flute was miked far too closely which resulted in accidental and inappropriate edginess in the playing. The sound, considerably better placed in Arabesques, shows just how good a flautist Debra Cross really is. I cannot recommend this recording highly enough!

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Sanctum by Adolphus Hailstork
Performer:  Charles Woodward (Piano), Beverly Baker (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Virginia Chamber Players
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1995; USA 
Romances (2) for Viola and Orchestra/Chamber Ensemble by Adolphus Hailstork
Performer:  Michael Daniels (Cello), Beverly Baker (Viola), Jennifer Snyder (Viola),
Barbara Chapman (Harp), Debra Wendells Cross (Flute), Vahn Armstrong (Violin),
Amanda Gates-Armstrong (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Virginia Chamber Players
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
As Falling Leaves by Adolphus Hailstork
Performer:  Debra Wendells Cross (Flute), Barbara Chapman (Harp), Beverly Baker (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Virginia Chamber Players
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Quartet for Strings no 1 by Adolphus Hailstork
Performer:  Jennifer Snyder (Viola), Vahn Armstrong (Violin), Amanda Gates-Armstrong (Violin),
Michael Daniels (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Virginia Chamber Players
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2002; USA 
Arabesques for Flute and Percussion by Adolphus Hailstork
Performer:  Debra Wendells Cross (Flute), Robert Cross (Percussion)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 

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