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Harbison: Violin Concerto, O Magnum Mysterium / Harbison, Anderson, Smith


Release Date: 03/18/1997 
Label:  Koch International Classics Catalog #: 7310   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  John Harbison
Performer:  Rosemary HarbisonMary Westbrook-GehaRoberta AndersonFrank Kelley,   ... 
Conductor:  Craig Smith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Emmanuel MusicChorus of Emmanuel Music
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 7 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Although it contains nothing but consistently beautiful music, this is a curious release. The commercially unastute combination of one large-scale orchestral work with a raft of shorter vocal-choral pieces—mostly a cappella—is here justified solely by their common provenance out of the Harbisons' affiliation with the Emmanuel Church of Boston. Since the 1970s Harbison and his violinist wife Rose Mary have been regular participants in the church's concert programs, given as part of religious services under the direction of conductor Craig Smith, by either performing or composing specific works for this series. Offering a total of eight individual vocal works, all written during the 90s and with only one—the eight-minute Recordare—calling for Read more four vocal soloists as well as a small chamber orchestra, this collection certainly testifies to the range and versatility of Harbison's interests and abilities, as he has not heretofore been associated readily with any kind of liturgical music.

All of the choral works make use of an austerely elevated polyphonic idiom recalling the medieval and Renaissance traditions together with Stravinsky's neo-Classical assimilation of these into a more dissonant and agitated contemporary language. Except for the radiantly euphonious, six-part motet Concerning Them Which Are Asleep—which commemorates the victims of AIDS—most of this music is couched in a rather spare, even hieratic mode whose refined expressivity is predicated on an attitude of pious devotion approaching lyrical self-abnegation. But at no time does Harbison's vocal line or texture become formulaic or tedious: each work, however small its compass, is filled with a continuous musical invention that is never less than appropriate for the text or occasion at hand. This CD includes some of the loveliest and purest church music to emanate from an American since the corpus of such works by Daniel Pinkham.

The Violin Concerto of 1980 (revised 1987) is a milestone in Harbison's evolution from the rather constipated postserialism of the 1970s—c.f. the Piano Concerto and Flight Into Egypt cantata—to the more expansive and inclusive, chromatically charged pandiatonicism of the past fifteen years, which have given us a host of inspired and superbly crafted works. In a sense, the composer rejoined and enriched the American symphonic tradition by changing his stylistic allegiance from Schoenberg to Stravinsky, whose liberating example can be heard throughout this intricately structured yet dramatically lucid twenty-six-minute work. (Inexplicably, Koch fails to provide either the timings or tempo markings for the Concerto's three motivically inter-related movements.) To these ears this Concerto—where the gestative and the gutsy are in perfect and interactive equilibrium—is one of the front-rank essays in the form by any American—right up there with the Barber and the Imbrie (in fact, it synthesizes the far flung virtues of both). Its splendors and revelations will reward repeated hearings.

The violin is almost always stage-forward, and with the composer's exceptionally gifted wife as soloist and his friend and associate Craig Smith at the helm, the performance has an easy, familial aura that we have every reason to consider as definitive. Full texts and translations accompany this outstanding issue from the producing and engineering initiative of Michael Fine.

-- Paul A. Snook, FANFARE [7/1997] Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Concerto for Violin by John Harbison
Performer:  Rosemary Harbison (Violin)
Conductor:  Craig Smith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Emmanuel Music
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1980/1987; USA 
Venue:  Emmanuel Church, Boston, Massachusetts 
2.
Recordare by John Harbison
Performer:  Mary Westbrook-Geha (Mezzo Soprano), Roberta Anderson (Soprano), Frank Kelley (Tenor),
Donald Wilkinson (Baritone)
Conductor:  Craig Smith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Emmanuel Music
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1995; USA 
3.
Emmanuel Motets (2) by John Harbison
Conductor:  Craig Smith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chorus of Emmanuel Music
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1990; USA 
4.
O Magnum mysterium by John Harbison
Conductor:  Craig Smith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chorus of Emmanuel Music
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1991/1992; USA 
Notes: Two versions of this work are included on this recording. 
5.
Ave verum corpus by John Harbison
Conductor:  Craig Smith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chorus of Emmanuel Music
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1991; USA 
6.
Concerning them which are asleep by John Harbison
Conductor:  Craig Smith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chorus of Emmanuel Music
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1993; USA 
7.
Communion words by John Harbison
Conductor:  Craig Smith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chorus of Emmanuel Music
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1994; USA 

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