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American Composers - Pacific


Release Date: 09/08/2009 
Label:  Marsyas   Catalog #: 1805   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  George GershwinLeonard BernsteinAaron CoplandRobert Muczynski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pacific Art Trio
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.

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AMERICAN COMPOSERS Pacific Tr MARSYAS 1805 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 67:51)


GERSHWIN Porgy and Bess: Suite (arr. Smith-Heifetz-Clutterham). Piano Prelude No. 2 Read more (arr. Stone). BERNSTEIN Piano Trio. COPLAND Vitebsk. MUCZYNSKI Piano Trio No. 1


I’m going to venture a guess that several things on and about this album will be new discoveries for a majority of readers. First is the record label itself. Marsyas is a division of ENJA Records, a German company with a catalog heavily oriented towards jazz. Thus far, its Marsyas spinoff seems to be branching out into crossover fare by jazz musicians and composers like Daniel Schnyder, who have turned to writing works for the concert hall, as well as into some fringe and not-so-fringe modernist repertoire. Second is the Porgy and Bess Suite—more on which anon—in an arrangement you are not likely to have ever heard before. And third, also more on which below, is yet another arrangement, this time of a Gershwin piano prelude that is also of more than passing interest.


Let me begin with the enclosed booklet that accompanies this Marsyas release. Advancing age ought to be an excuse, at least now and then, for getting one’s dander up. And what gets mine up, without the aid of any little blue pills, is a record company that can’t be bothered to provide decent, informative notes on the works or the provenance and background of their arrangements, which, in this case, are of some historical importance. Almost all of the details provided below come from having to search out the information myself. Assistance was provided by Professor James Smith, chair of the classical guitar department at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, and partially responsible for the Porgy and Bess arrangement here, whom I contacted via e-mail. My thanks to him for his prompt reply and valuable help.


Suites derived from Porgy and Bess and arranged for orchestra, as well as just about any instrumental combination you can think of, are not new. But the one on this disc has an interesting and somewhat complicated history. In 1990, Professor Smith arranged a suite from Porgy and Bess for flute, cello, and guitar (not piano, as the booklet note incorrectly states) for the Bel Arts Trio, basing it on Gershwin’s full operatic score. But Smith also incorporated material from Heifetz’s 1947 violin transcription. Subsequently, Hollywood film-score arranger Lars Clutterham, at the request of the Pacific Trio, adapted the flute part to the violin and the guitar part to the piano, producing the piano-trio version (violin, cello, and piano) heard here.


Gershwin’s three piano preludes of 1926 have also been subjected to a variety of orchestral and instrumental transcriptions and arrangements. Gregory Stone (1900–1991) came to the U.S. from the Ukraine in 1923 and ended up in Hollywood, where, like other Russian composer transplants of the time, he enjoyed a successful career in the film industry from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. In 1939, he was nominated for, but didn’t win, the Oscar for best music and scoring for the 1938 film Girls’ School . Stone, who arranged the second of the three preludes for piano trio performed on the current disc, arranged all three of them for orchestra; they can be heard on a 1979 recording by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. A tireless Gershwin arranger, he also published an arrangement for piano four hands, which is played by the Campion-Vachon duo on an Analekta disc. Heifetz, too, arranged the preludes for violin and piano around the same time he made his Porgy and Bess arrangement, and they can be heard on a Deutsche Grammophon CD played by Gil Shaham and André Previn. Let us not to exclude yet another arrangement—by Brazilian composer, pianist, and conductor Raimundo Penaforte, which, coincidentally, also happens to be for piano trio; that one can be heard on an EMI release performed by the Eroica Trio. The American spirit and the spirituality that run deep through the veins of Gershwin’s music—a combination of optimism and hopefulness in the face of adversity and the Whitman-like “One’s-self I sing” yearning for individualism—are apparently indestructible and unconstrained, no matter the arrangements in which presented. That much is undisputed in these performances by the Pacific Trio.


Copland’s Vitebsk is based on a Jewish folk tune the composer first heard in the Yiddish play, The Dybbuk . The playwright, S. Ansky (pen name for Shloyme-Zanvl Rappoport), had in turn brought the tune with him from his native Russia. Unlike the works familiar from Copland’s later “Americana” phase, Vitebsk , written in 1928 as a piano trio, is decidedly pungent, with the “sour” harmonies intended to conjure images of decrepit, out-of-tune instruments and their often frail, elderly players in the shtetls of Eastern Europe. Copland achieves the effect by combining superimposed major and minor chords in the piano with quartertones in the violin and cello, Vitebsk being the only piece in which he ever used quartertones.


I’m pretty sure I’d never heard Leonard Bernstein’s Piano Trio before now. Raymond Tuttle reviewed a recording of it with the Ahn Trio in 24:2, dispatching it in a single sentence: “The Bernstein Trio is almost an anomaly, until we learn that it comes from his teen years (frankly, it is not a very strong work, and I’ll say no more about it).” And he didn’t. Not to be equally dismissive, I will say that I don’t find the piece entirely without interest. To be sure, there’s nothing about it that shouts “Bernstein,” but it was an early attempt by the composer to find something uniquely American in modern music, and the impish second movement is quite delightful in a Mendelssohn-via-Ives sort of way.


The least well-known name on this album titled “American Composers” is Chicago native Robert Muczynski (b. 1929). A composition student of Alexander Tcherepnin’s at De Paul University, Muczynski’s works have been steadily gaining exposure with performances by the Chicago and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestras, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the National Symphony of Washington. His 1966 Piano Trio No. 1 is a four-movement work in traditional Classical form. The melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic vocabulary are “listener-friendly” modern, which is to say nothing jars or strays too far afield from the “true north” of tonal mooring. Leaving aside the Gershwin numbers, which are arrangements, the Bernstein Trio, which is a student work, and Copland’s Vitebsk , which is scored for piano trio but is more of a single-movement iconographic musical sketch than a formal piano trio, the Muczynski emerges as the most interesting and, indeed, the most compelling work on the disc. The second movement Andante is of a haunting beauty you will not soon forget.


Unless the Pacific Art Trio has reformed under a different name and repopulated itself with all new members, I believe we can thank arkivmusic.com for another of their little lapses, for it is under that name that you will find this release filed and the ensemble identified. But I have the Pacific Art Trio’s Delos recording of piano trios by Korngold and Ives, and the players are Israel Baker, Edgar Lustgarten, and Alice Shapiro. I’ve been wrong before, but I’d have to be really, really wrong in surmising that the Pacific Trio (sans the “Art”) heard on this disc is not the same group. It was founded in Los Angeles in 1979 by pianist Edith Orloff and cellist John Walz, who are joined in this recording by violinist Roger Wilkie. According to the once again less-than-informative booklet note, the ensemble issued its first CD, a recording of piano trios by Brahms and Shostakovich, in 1989. But no record label is mentioned, and I haven’t been able to track it down on the Internet. So, to the best of my knowledge, this Marsyas release is their one and only album currently available. Based on the quality of the performances, the contents of the disc, and the amazing presence of this hybrid surround-sound disc, I hope there will be many more to come. Most strongly recommended.


FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

1. Porgy and Bess: Overture by George Gershwin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pacific Art Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; USA 
Length: 1 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Notes: Arrangers: Smith; Clutterham; Jascha Heifetz. 
2. Porgy and Bess: Summertime by George Gershwin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pacific Art Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; USA 
Length: 3 Minutes 9 Secs. 
Notes: Arrangers: Smith; Clutterham; Jascha Heifetz. 
3. Porgy and Bess: My man's gone now by George Gershwin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pacific Art Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; USA 
Length: 3 Minutes 53 Secs. 
Notes: Arrangers: Smith; Clutterham; Jascha Heifetz. 
4. Porgy and Bess: It ain't necessarily so by George Gershwin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pacific Art Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; USA 
Length: 3 Minutes 34 Secs. 
Notes: Arrangers: Smith; Clutterham; Jascha Heifetz. 
5. Porgy and Bess: Bess, you is my woman now by George Gershwin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pacific Art Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; USA 
Length: 4 Minutes 38 Secs. 
Notes: Arrangers: Smith; Clutterham; Jascha Heifetz. 
6. Porgy and Bess: There's a boat dat's leavin' soon for New York by George Gershwin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pacific Art Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; USA 
Length: 2 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Notes: Arrangers: Smith; Clutterham; Jascha Heifetz. 
7. Porgy and Bess: Oh Lawd, I'm on my way by George Gershwin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pacific Art Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; USA 
Length: 1 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Notes: Arrangers: Smith; Clutterham; Jascha Heifetz. 
8. Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano by Leonard Bernstein
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pacific Art Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1937; USA 
9. Vitebsk by Aaron Copland
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pacific Art Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1929; USA 
Length: 13 Minutes 8 Secs. 
10. Trio for Piano and Strings no 1, Op. 24 by Robert Muczynski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pacific Art Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1966-1967; USA 
11. Preludes (3) for Piano: no 2 in C sharp minor, Andante con moto e poco rubato by George Gershwin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pacific Art Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1926; USA 
Length: 3 Minutes 42 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Gregory Stone. 

Sound Samples

Porgy and Bess (arr. J. Smith, J. Heifetz and L. Clutterham): Act I Scene 1: Overture
Porgy and Bess (arr. J. Smith, J. Heifetz and L. Clutterham): Act I Scene 1: Summertime
Porgy and Bess (arr. J. Smith, J. Heifetz and L. Clutterham): Act I Scene 2: My Man's Gone Now
Porgy and Bess (arr. J. Smith, J. Heifetz and L. Clutterham): Act II Scene 2: It Ain't Necessarily So
Porgy and Bess (arr. J. Smith, J. Heifetz and L. Clutterham): Act II Scene 1: Bess, You is My Woman Now
Porgy and Bess (arr. J. Smith, J. Heifetz and L. Clutterham): Act III Scene 2: There's a boat dat's leavin' soon for New York
Porgy and Bess (arr. J. Smith, J. Heifetz and L. Clutterham): Act III Scene 3: Oh Lord, I'm on my way
Piano Trio: I. Adagio non troppo - Piu mosso - Allegro vivace - Meno allegro - Largamente
Piano Trio: II. Tempo di marcia
Piano Trio: III. Largo - Allegro vivo e molto ritmico
Vitebsk - Study on a Jewish Theme
Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 24: I. Allegro con moto
Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 24: II. Allegro giocoso
Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 24: III. Andante
Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 24: IV. Finale: Allegro con spirito
3 Preludes: No. 2. Andante con moto e poco rubato (arr. G. Stone)

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