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Together / Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, New Century Chamber Orchestra

Release Date: 08/11/2009 
Label:  Nss Music   Catalog #: 8   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Clarice AssadAstor PiazzollaBéla BartókGeorge Gershwin
Performer:  Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Century Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

TOGETHER Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (vn); New Century CO NSS MUSIC 8 (60:22)

C. ASSAD Impressions. PIAZZOLLA Las estaciones porteñas. BARTÓK Romanian Folk Dances. GERSHWIN Porgy and Bess: Bess, You Is My Woman Now
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The newest work leads off this disc of international song and dance for string orchestra, Impressions , which Clarice Assad wrote for the New Century Chamber Orchestra after hearing it play another piece of hers in 2007. “I was immediately impressed by their vivacity, as well as their ability to sound as one without compromising their own individuality as performers,” she writes, and Impressions reflects Assad’s characterization of the orchestra in performance with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. The first movement is a theme with variations; the foundational melody has the sinuous line and phrase-structure repetitions of an African-American spiritual, almost. Its permutations include a jazzy pizzicato bass solo and a syncopated episode reminiscent of Mark O’Connor. Speaking of O’Connor, the second movement seems like the jazziest element of Texas swing meeting Brazilian rhythm; it’s called “Fusion: Dança brasileira.” Next comes “Affection: Slow Waltz,” said to have been inspired by the obvious connection between the orchestra and Salerno-Sonnenberg; it calls to mind a Villa-Lobos modinha , with restless and plaintive passages for the solo violin. After this is “Precision: Perpetual Motion,” a scherzo springing from a nervous, fast ostinato. It concludes with a coda with its own name, “Unity,” basically a reprise of the first-movement theme. Throughout, and particularly in the fast music, the orchestra’s attacks and articulation are wonderfully crisp and precise, as if this were only a string quintet, yet the tone is so full and well blended that it often sounds like far more than 17 players at work.

The other most substantial work here is Astor Piazzolla’s increasingly popular Las estaciones porteñas , or Four Seasons of Buenos Aires , which pulls together four independent “nuevo tango” works Piazzolla wrote for his bandoneón-led quintet between 1965 and 1970; among them is one of his signature pieces, the dark and gritty and soulful “Verano porteño.” In 1999, Gidon Kremer asked Leonid Desyatnikov to bring the four items together into a suite for violin and string orchestra, which Kremer intended to combine with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons . The new arrangement goes so far as to quote, or at least allude to, Vivaldi’s concertos from time to time, but the music remains mostly Piazzolla. There have been several recordings of it during the past decade; the most pertinent comparison for this latest version is perhaps Lara St. John’s new recording with Eduardo Maturet leading the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. Surprisingly, it’s St. John who’s the schmaltzier performer of this music, with more indulgent, dynamically wide glissandos, although her playing is sometimes quieter overall than Salerno-Sonnenberg’s is. This is certainly not to say that Salerno-Sonnenberg’s interpretation is undercharacterized, but in many ways it’s more emotionally controlled, more poised and classical in a sense. At the same time, Salerno-Sonnenberg can summon plenty of throbbing sentimentality, and is as exhibitionistic as she needs to be. There’s a big difference in the way the two orchestras come across; the excellent Venezuelan group is bigger, but recorded at a greater distance; its playing seems softer-edged and more in the background than the New Century Chamber Orchestra’s up-front, nimble performance, full of wicked precision and snap. Each reading is very effective in its own manner.

Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances receive a folksy, good-humored performance with enough zest that they don’t sound like an afterthought, despite their late placement on the disc. The Gershwin item is played with affection, and brings the disc full circle, back to the mood of Assad’s opening theme. All in all, this disc is smart, fun, and marvelously played.

FANFARE: James Reel
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Works on This Recording

Impressions by Clarice Assad
Performer:  Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Century Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Porgy and Bess: Bess, you is my woman now by George Gershwin
Performer:  Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Century Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; USA 
Las estaciones porteńas (4) by Astor Piazzolla
Performer:  Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Century Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1967-1970; Argentina 
Romanian Folkdances for String Orchestra, Sz 68 by Béla Bartók
Performer:  Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Century Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1917; Budapest, Hungary 

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