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American Classics - Wuorinen / Shelton, Rothenberg, Brentano String Quartet

Release Date: 04/29/2008 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559377   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Charles Wuorinen
Performer:  Nina Marie LeeMisha AmoryLeon WilliamsMark Steinberg,   ... 
Conductor:  Charles Wuorinen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Brentano String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 1 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WUORINEN Ashberyana. 1 Praegustatum. 2 Fenton Songs: I; 2,3,4 II. 3,4,5 Josquin: Ave Christe. 2 Josquiniana 6 Charles Wuorinen, cond; 1 Sarah Rothenberg (pn); 2 Read more Leon Williams (bar); 1 Lucy Shelton (sop); 3 Mark Steinberg (vn); 4 Nina Maria Lee (vc); 4 Alan Feinberg (pn); 5 Da Camera of Houston; 1 Brentano Str Qrt 6 NAXOS 8.559377 (61:28)

On the heels of two excellent Charles Wuorinen releases (his Dante Trilogy on Naxos and a disc of songs on Albany) comes this new Naxos disc, which contains mostly recent vocal works. I was privileged to attend a live concert in New York City of most of this repertoire a few days before the recording sessions took place. The two sets of Fenton Songs (1997 and 2002) are settings of the poetry of the distinguished British author James Fenton. Fenton wrote the libretto (based on Salman Rushdie’s novel) for Wuorinen’s most recent opera, Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Thus, in preparation for setting several hours of Fenton’s witty lines, Wuorinen composed these two song cycles for soprano and piano trio. Nearly all the songs are short, except for the third song of the second cycle, “The Ballad of the Shrieking Man,” which is a true tour de force —a setting of a dramatic poem about a world gone mad, in the best tradition of W. H. Auden’s darkly comic ballads. Veteran new-music specialist Lucy Shelton performs these works with the flair and skill she has always brought to such repertoire.

Ashberyana (2004) is a setting of four texts by the American poet John Ashbery. Though his poetry is notoriously complex and hard to parse, Wuorinen settings create their own musical meaning out of Ashbery’s rambling lines and images. The overall message of the poems may still be obscure, but the sense of individual lines and phrases is put into perspective through the rhythmic and colorful textures with which they are paired. The solo baritone receives an “instrumental foil” in the form of the trombone, which, along with piano and string quartet, provides the accompaniment.

The remaining pieces on the disc are smaller in scope. Praegustatum (“foretaste” in Latin) is a short piano miniature written in 2005 as a gift for conductor James Levine, who has been an exceptional champion of Wuorinen’s music in the recent years. The final two pieces are examples of what Wuorinen terms “remakings”—sophisticated concert transcriptions of early music. He has composed a number of works in this genre, ranging from the exhilarating John Bull: Salve regina (1966) for mixed ensemble, to the grandly large-scale Machault Mon chou (1988) for the San Francisco Symphony. Josquin: Ave Christe (1988) is a sensitive piano arrangement of a beautiful choral motet of Josquin des Prez. Josquiniana (2002) is a set of six secular songs of Josquin arranged for the excellent Brentano String Quartet. Next season will see the concert premiere of a new Wuorinen “remaking,” a piano concerto for Peter Serkin, Levine, and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, based on the work of a number of Renaissance composers. Though Wuorinen set very few texts during the middle years of his career, the 1990s have seen a tremendous flowering of vocal music. This new release, along with the most recent Wuorinen Albany disc (TROY 968), provides an excellent introduction to his many skillful settings of quality poetry. The composer-supervised performances on this Naxos release are all strong, featuring musicians who have been long associated with his music.

FANFARE: Carson Cooman
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Works on This Recording

Ashberyana by Charles Wuorinen
Performer:  Nina Marie Lee (Cello), Misha Amory (Viola), Leon Williams (Baritone),
Mark Steinberg (Violin), Sarah Rothenberg (Piano), David Fulmer (Violin),
James Pugh (Trombone)
Conductor:  Charles Wuorinen
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 18 Minutes 22 Secs. 
Praegustatum by Charles Wuorinen
Performer:  Sarah Rothenberg (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 2 Minutes 52 Secs. 
Josquiniana by Charles Wuorinen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Brentano String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 8 Minutes 37 Secs. 
Fenton Songs no 1 by Charles Wuorinen
Performer:  Lucy Shelton (Soprano), Sarah Rothenberg (Piano), Nina Marie Lee (Cello),
Mark Steinberg (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Brentano String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 8 Minutes 44 Secs. 
Fenton Songs no 2 by Charles Wuorinen
Performer:  Mark Steinberg (Violin), Alan Feinberg (Piano), Lucy Shelton (Soprano),
Nina Marie Lee (Cello)
Length: 15 Minutes 35 Secs. 
Ave Christe: Josquin by Charles Wuorinen
Performer:  Sarah Rothenberg (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1988; USA 
Length: 5 Minutes 5 Secs. 

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