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American Classics - Wuorinen: Dante Trilogy

Release Date: 01/29/2008 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559345   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Charles Wuorinen
Conductor:  Oliver Knussen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Contemporary Music Group
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 12 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WUORINEN The Mission of Virgil. 2 The Great Procession. 1 The River of Light 1 Oliver Knussen, cond; 1 Richard Moredock (pn); 2 Cameron Grant (pn); 2 Group for Contemporary Music 1 NAXOS Read more 8.559345 (72:10)

Many of the superb recent releases of the music of Charles Wuorinen (b. 1934) have been reissues of deleted items from the Koch catalog. However, for this newest recording of “The Dante Trilogy,” a series of three ballet scores, only one of the pieces ( The Mission of Virgil ) was previously available. The New York City Ballet (under the leadership of its enterprising ballet master Peter Martins) has commissioned works from a number of American composers, including these three pieces (dating from 1993 through 1996), each inspired by one of the books of Dante’s Commedia. Wuorinen created chamber versions of the works recorded on this disc, which were originally written for full orchestra. The Mission of Virgil is scored simply for two pianos, while the two later works use a small chamber orchestra of single winds (no brass), strings, piano/celesta, harp, and percussion.

Though Wuorinen stopped writing program notes about his own music years ago, the excellent liner notes by Robert Kirzinger describe in great detail the correlations (some literal and some free) between Wuorinen’s music and Dante’s poetry. For the first two ballets, the scores contain numerous specific section titles and images from Dante. The River of Light , by contrast, is in one long, unlabeled movement and is, in Wuorinen’s words, “reflective of aspects of Dante’s cosmology, and on a more mundane level of his versification technique.”

While it would be extremely difficult to sum up the overwhelming experiencing of reading Dante’s entire Commedia in just 70 minutes of music, Wuorinen’s ballets create an aural distillation of moods that are equally enjoyable whether experienced as “pure music” or combined with a knowledge of the plots of Dante’s work. Wuorinen’s vibrant, sinewy sound world has always been capable of tremendous versatility and deep musical expression; thus it is not a surprise that his flair extends to music for the ballet stage.

While The Mission of Virgil is a studio recording, the other two pieces are taken from excellent live concert performances given at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Oliver Knussen is a dedicated champion of Wuorinen’s music and conducts it with insight and conviction. Though we have been very fortunate with the past few years’ generous outpouring of Wuorinen chamber and vocal releases on the Naxos and Albany labels, the state of orchestral recording today and the difficulty of Wuorinen’s scores has meant that many of his greatest pieces (particularly his recent orchestral works) are quite unfortunately not yet available on commercial discs.

FANFARE: Carson Cooman
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Works on This Recording

The Mission of Virgil by Charles Wuorinen
Conductor:  Oliver Knussen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Contemporary Music Group
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1993-1994; USA 
Length: 27 Minutes 7 Secs. 
The Great Procession by Charles Wuorinen
Conductor:  Oliver Knussen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Contemporary Music Group
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1995; USA 
Length: 26 Minutes 0 Secs. 
The River of Light by Charles Wuorinen
Conductor:  Oliver Knussen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Contemporary Music Group
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1996; USA 
Length: 19 Minutes 3 Secs. 

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