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Twentieth Century "contrasts" / Pensis, Miramar Sinfonietta


Release Date: 05/28/2002 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 509   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Michael DaughertyLukas FossWilliam BolcomJames Ray Hanna,   ... 
Performer:  Jeani Muhonen FosterSamantha GeorgeWilliam BarnewitzEric Segnitz
Conductor:  Henri B. Pensis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Miramar Sinfonietta
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 9 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The Miramar Sinfonietta is a Milwaukee-area chamber orchestra originally founded for an occasional purpose, the recording of Henri Pensis’s Fantasy on Two Christmas Carols (this composer, 1900–58, was the father of the ensemble’s conductor). Apparently, they’ve decided to continue work with other projects, this recording being the result. Except for the final two arrangements on the program, the collection features American music for string orchestra and soloists. The Miramar plays with both polish and crackle, and their director’s programming sense is pleasing. There is much here that is engaging on a variety of levels—tuneful, sometimes challenging, eclectic but personal, never dogmatic.

Michael Daugherty’s (b. 1954) Strut
Read more (1989) joins a host of recent works that emphasize a connection to blues, funk, and R&B idioms. It’s also one of the better such efforts, with pleasingly tricky rhythmic shifts. It also has a restraint and concision one doesn’t always find in the composer’s more recent works.

Lukas Foss’s (b. 1922) For Toru (no date given) is a brief, contemplative tone poem for flute and strings that evokes the language of the late Toru Takemitsu as an homage. Foss is extremely adept with suggesting the Japanese master’s sound without literally quoting it.

William Bolcom’s (b. 1938) Concerto Serenade of 1964 shows how early the composer had already developed his trademark language of alternating between chromatic/atonal materials and more vernacular American material. Much of the music suggests the brittleness, both of sound and intellect, one hears in Stravinsky—late serial in the third movement, middle-period neo-classic in the last.

James Hanna (b. 1922) is represented by the final movement of his Fourth Symphony (1986), which is based on a hymn tune by Lowell Mason, Downs. One hears in it a sincere and gentle utterance in the manner of such American composers as Roy Harris.

The two subsequent works bespeak a conservative American lyricism of deep integrity. Alec Wilder (1920–80) was an uncategorizable composer—deeply committed to a stylish, romantic idiom that drew on jazz and popular music from mid-century. As a consequence, he is often viewed as both a “classical” composer and an elegant songwriter who has composed several cabaret standards. The 1979 Five Love Songs for horn and strings is a late work, a distillation of gestures and harmonies from the golden age of American song, a “song without words” for its age. Quincy Porter (1896–1966) was for decades associated with Yale College and wrote music of unflagging sunniness, verve, and lyricism, in a voice similar to that of his colleague Paul Hindemith (though it must be said that Porter’s tone is overall more delicate and romantic). His 1941 Music for Strings is no exception to this description.

The final two works are arrangements. John Adams made his Todo Buenos Aires for violin and string orchestra from a tango by the great Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla (1921–1992). It is distinguished by its fanciful writing for the solo fiddle, which creates a kaleidoscope of colors, often percussive (such as pizzicato and rhythmicized scraping behind the bridge). Henri Pensis (1900–1958) was the founding conductor of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Luxembourg and a fixture in Midwest music-making, directing the Lincoln, Nebraska, Philharmonic. His Fantasy on Two Christmas Carols (again, no date) is a set of variations on the Czech “Come, All Ye Shepherds,” with “Silent Night” floating above as a descant.

Overall, a consistently intelligent and beguiling collection.

Robert Carl, FANFARE
Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Strut by Michael Daugherty
Conductor:  Henri B. Pensis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Miramar Sinfonietta
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1989; USA 
Venue:  Remote Planet, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 
Length: 5 Minutes 51 Secs. 
2.
For Toru by Lukas Foss
Performer:  Jeani Muhonen Foster (Flute)
Conductor:  Henri B. Pensis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Miramar Sinfonietta
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1996; USA 
Venue:  Remote Planet, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 
Length: 9 Minutes 0 Secs. 
Notes: Ver: Flute and String Orchestra 
3.
Concerto Serenade for Violin and Strings by William Bolcom
Performer:  Samantha George (Violin)
Conductor:  Henri B. Pensis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Miramar Sinfonietta
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1964; USA 
Venue:  Remote Planet, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 
Length: 19 Minutes 19 Secs. 
4.
Downs by James Ray Hanna
Conductor:  Henri B. Pensis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Miramar Sinfonietta
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Venue:  Remote Planet, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 
Length: 3 Minutes 39 Secs. 
5.
Love Songs (5) for Horn and Chamber Orchestra by Alec Wilder
Performer:  William Barnewitz (French Horn)
Conductor:  Henri B. Pensis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Miramar Sinfonietta
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Venue:  Remote Planet, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 
Length: 11 Minutes 57 Secs. 
6.
Music for Strings by Quincy Porter
Conductor:  Henri B. Pensis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Miramar Sinfonietta
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1941; USA 
Venue:  Remote Planet, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 
Length: 8 Minutes 28 Secs. 
7.
Todo Buenos Aires by Astor Piazzolla
Performer:  Eric Segnitz (Violin)
Conductor:  Henri B. Pensis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Miramar Sinfonietta
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Argentina 
Venue:  Remote Planet, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 
Length: 5 Minutes 43 Secs. 
Notes: Orchestrated: John Adams 
8.
Fantasy on Two Christmas Carols by Henri Pensis
Conductor:  Henri B. Pensis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Miramar Sinfonietta
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Luxembourg 
Venue:  Remote Planet, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 
Length: 4 Minutes 39 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Strut
For Toru
Concerto Serenade: I. In Modo Classico
Concerto Serenade: II. In Memory of a Distant Relative
Concerto Serenade: III. Scherzino and Cadenza
Concerto Serenade: IV. Rondo
Symphony No. 4: IV. Downs
5 Love Songs: No. 1. Espressivo, rubato
5 Love Songs: No. 2. quarter note = 72-76
5 Love Songs: No. 3. Andante, delicately
5 Love Songs: No. 4. quarter note = 63
5 Love Songs: No. 5. Dolce e rubato
Music for Strings: I. Allegro moderato
Music for Strings: II. Andante molto sostenuto
Music for Strings: III. Allegro giojoso
Todo Buenos Aires (arr. for violin and orchestra)
Fantasy on 2 Christmas Carols

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