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Picker: Old And Lost Rivers / Eschenbach, Gielgud

Release Date: 08/06/2007 
Label:  Erato   Catalog #: 61519   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Tobias Picker
Performer:  Christoph EschenbachJohn GielgudRobert Atherholt
Conductor:  Christoph Eschenbach
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Houston Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 11 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Andrew Porter suggests in his notes that it's not entirely fair to characterize Tobias Picker (b. 1954) as a neo-Romantic only. I'm reminded of Nixon's “I'm no crook!“ Not only is Picker a neo-Romantic, he contends for Best of Breed. At a time where High Culture's hub has fairly seized for want of proper grease, neo-Romanticism, with its rearward gaze through rose-colored or in one way or another condensing-distorting lenses, is as reasonable a technique for marshaling sounds (provided as always one does it well) as the joining together of serial or minimal Lego, or the tossing of one's pieces to random distribution—or, in your reporter's thrice-removed case, the mixing of metaphors. Philip Glass's smarmy robotics excepted, one finds enough Read more to admire in the whirlwind to be grateful for Kansas and Oz, and points between.

This warmly recommended Virgin CD, co-sponsored by the Houston Symphony and the National Endowment for the Arts (with still other funds for Gielgud's part), offers fine performances ideally recorded (with one exception, neither serious nor unique, noted below) of a music redolent of nostalgia and, here and there, of longing and regret: the orchestral version of Old and Lost Rivers (named for two Texas rivers, Old and Lost), sets the stage with muted Coplandesque reveries; the slightly longer piano version, of an even deeper quietude, has about it a potential for popularity equal to that of Fanfare for the Common Man, though at quite the opposite end of the pomposity scale.

The means by which Romances and Interludes achieve their transtemporal charms are most skillfully managed: Picker's affectionate lootings go in the main to a solo oboe within the context of brilliant, tonal (or close to) orchestral goings-on. “The basis of the work is Schumann's Three Romances for oboe and piano, composed in 1849. The oboe line remains intact (. . .) except for a few phrases taken over by instrumental colleagues (. . .). “ The prelude and two interludes, as aptly contrasting ornaments, are Picker's entirely. The Houston's first oboist, Robert Atherholt, who gave the winsome work's premiere, handles the elegant solo line elegantly.

Bookworms among the Serious Collectorship will have recognized The Encantadas as Herman Melville's portraits of the Galapagos Islands, published in 1854, not long after Darwin's voyages there. Schumann's part in Romances and Interludes and Melville's in The Encantadas suggest that Picker's poetic heart accelerates best rearwardly; his retroversion is, I think, no merely formal shtick. Symphony No. 2, Aussöhnung, performed also by the Houston, under Sergiu Commissiona's direction (New World 9 79246-2), as a loving homage to Brahms, for me achieves its strength in its moments of shaded tranquillity, as does much of the music at hand. When Picker waxes exuberant, he becomes relatively anonymous, to the degree that one can confuse him with others working similar veins. But when he gives this shadowy, at times melancholic anima free rein, he's into his distinctiveness. But this is not to say that The Encantadas, as a nicely balanced tour de force, is wall-to-wall gloom. Penguin Waltz (track 5, index 4), with its Straussian froth, and Rodando is the Aviary of Ocean (6:1), with its Mahler-like élan, rise well and convincingly above the pervasive, breathless strangeness. And as with Romances and Interludes, Picker knows better than to overtax his source. The music serves the speaker's words, which the production puts well forward of the orchestra.

One's quibbles have to do with the narrator and the way he's been recorded. The Encantadas sets American prose to American music: so why a British voice, be it ever so distinguished a one as Gielgud's? In the event, the speaker does his part—beautifully, of course—in an ambience different from that of the orchestra's, though not so much as to wreck the effect of simultaneity utterly. Most recordings of narration and music are done this way—it's really not fair of me to fault an otherwise top-flight job for what amounts to common practice, particularly since some effort appears to have been made to match the acoustic of either space. However, when you try bringing the orchestra up to a viscerally gratifying level, the speaker rises to Bunyanesque heights—or better said in this Anglophilic circumstance, Brobdignagian. (Examples of particularly dreadful mismatches exist: take Deutsche Grammophon 415 982-2—as in Henny Youngman's “Take my wife!“—of Schoenberg's Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte. The American “reciter“—he should in this instance have been a Brit—reads his lines in what sounds a utility closet, as the LaSalle Quartet and pianist Stefan Litwin do their part in so different a space as to trash beyond redemption whatever sense of unity good recordings try to achieve.)

When you buy this CD, and I think you should, consider the New World I mention above, and a Composers Recordings CD, 554, of Keys to the City, for piano and orchestra, which Picker wrote in a buoyantly celebratory fashion for the Brooklyn Bridge's One Hundredth Anniversary, nicely coupled with Marc Blitzstein's 1931 piano concerto. Also, a reissue of two CRI LPs, featuring the violin concerto and four smaller-scaled works, will likely have appeared before this review as CRI CD 589.

-- Mike Silverton, FANFARE [7/1991] Read less

Works on This Recording

Old and Lost Rivers by Tobias Picker
Performer:  Christoph Eschenbach (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1986; USA 
Encantadas by Tobias Picker
Performer:  John Gielgud (Spoken Vocals)
Conductor:  Christoph Eschenbach
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Houston Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1983; USA 
Romances and Interludes, Op 94 by Tobias Picker
Performer:  Robert Atherholt (Oboe)
Conductor:  Christoph Eschenbach
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Houston Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1989; USA 
Notes: "Romances and Interludes" are orchestral settings of themes from Robert
Schumann's "Three Romances for Oboe and Piano." 
Old and Lost Rivers by Tobias Picker
Conductor:  Christoph Eschenbach
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Houston Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1986; USA 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 A delightful find August 27, 2013 By Scott H. See All My Reviews "It took me a good while to find and purchase this album. As I'm going through the process of finding 'current' American composers, and listening to Picker, I've been amazed how approachable his work is, especially considering the difficulties of finding composers who were in the latter half of the 20th Century. This is well recorded, and you can't lose with Gielgud's narration of "The Encantadas."" Report Abuse
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