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American Classics - Rorem: Piano Concerto No 2, Etc

Release Date: 09/25/2007 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559315   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ned Rorem
Performer:  Simon MulliganWen-Sinn Yang
Conductor:  José Serebrier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 59 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Better late than never, these Rorem premieres are irresistible

How remarkable that two such delectable concertos should be receiving their world premieres on disc. Unapologetically romantic and accessible, those qualities may well have mitigated against acceptance among the industry’s fashion-mongers. The Second Piano Concerto (1951) was written for Julius Katchen (also the dedicatee of Rorem’s attractive Second Piano Sonata) and was given its first performance by that superb pianist in 1954. Since then it has lain dormant until its present revival by Simon Mulligan whose brilliance, ideally matched by José Serebrier, is worthy of Katchen himself.
Read more Here, the ghosts of Ravel, Françaix, Gershwin, Stravinsky and, most of all, Poulenc, jostle for attention. Yet Rorem’s idiom is as personal as it is chic. The final pages of the central “Quiet and Sad” movement, where the piano weaves intricate tracery round the orchestral theme, may owe much to the Adagio assai from Ravel’s G major Concerto but it maintains its own character. The finale, “Real Fast”, is an irresistible tour de force played up to the hilt by Mulligan.

In the Cello Concerto Rorem happily eschews a conventional form, giving programmatic subtitles to each section. These range from “Curtain Raise” to “Adrift”, offering Wen-Sinn Yang a rich opportunity, whether playing primus inter pares or revelling in Rorem’s alternating nostalgia and effervescence. Finely recorded, it’s a clear winner for the Naxos American Classics series.

-- Bryce Morrison, Gramophone [12/2007]

Naxos' ongoing series of Ned Rorem orchestral music recordings offers well-deserved recognition to a major American composer. This latest release is no less rewarding than the prior issues. The Second Piano Concerto dates from 1951 and shows the young composer writing with tremendous gusto. A large work (34 minutes) in the traditional three movements, its scoring is both vivid and at times a touch dense and "over the top", while the work's melodic generosity and rhythmic drive are undeniably infectious; its neglect must be counted a major mystery. Conductor José Serebrier's notes make much of the music's "American" qualities, particularly in the finale, but I was much more forcibly struck by Rorem's much-advertised love of French music. Whatever the answer to the "influence" question, this concerto is without doubt a major statement, and it's very impressively performed by Simon Mulligan, Serebrier, and the orchestra, who let the music speak with all of its delicious formal (in the first-movement cadenza) and textural excess.

Rorem's Cello Concerto dates from 2002, and like many of his late orchestra works it abandons traditional form in favor of a series of brief movements given cute names that may or may not have anything significant to do with their musical content. Frankly, I find this habit unnecessarily coy and distracting, but others may simply be intrigued; and if the listener's curiosity, once aroused, leads to giving the music more concentrated attention, then it's all to the good.

The sequence of eight movements is laid out for maximum contrast, and I particularly enjoyed the seventh, a characterful waltz. Indeed, Rorem is such a fine melodist when he wants to be that you have to wonder why he feels the need to venture into more aggressively "modern" territory now and then. Perhaps he's working a little bit too hard at being a "serious" composer. Never mind: this is a fine work, also strongly played by cellist Wen-Sinn Yang. Naxos' engineers have judged the balances very accurately between both soloists and the orchestra, while the occasional opacity at the climaxes of the piano concerto seems more a function of the heavy scoring than a suggestion of technical inadequacy. A fine disc.

--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano no 2 by Ned Rorem
Performer:  Simon Mulligan (Piano)
Conductor:  José Serebrier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1950; USA 
Date of Recording: 08/2006 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, Scotland 
Length: 34 Minutes 8 Secs. 
Concerto for Cello by Ned Rorem
Performer:  Wen-Sinn Yang (Cello)
Conductor:  José Serebrier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2002; USA 
Date of Recording: 08/2006 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, Scotland 
Length: 25 Minutes 10 Secs. 

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