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George Walker - Great American Orchestral Music Vol 2

Walker / Sinfonia Varsovia / Hobson
Release Date: 03/09/2010 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1178  
Composer:  George WalkerJohann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Gregory WalkerAndrzej Krzyzanowski
Conductor:  Ian Hobson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sinfonia Varsovia
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WALKER Violin Concerto. Sinfornia No. 2. Foils (Homage à Saint-Georges). Pageant and Proclamation Gregory Walker (vn); Ian Hobson, cond; Sinfonia Varsovia TROY 1178 (57:49)

Stylistically, George Walker’s Violin Concerto speaks the language of the mid 20th century, although it’s not serially composed and not what I would call abstract, either. The absence of a “big tune,” while a contemporary compositional tendency lamented by general audiences, doesn’t prevent it from Read more making a serious, tightly argued impression. The initial mood strikes me as somewhat austere, but is tempered by the violin’s more relaxed, melodically inclined voice. Emerging out of an emphatic, forte orchestral beginning replete with brass and chimes, the violin’s first, lyrical appearance softens the severity even as it serves to establish the pattern of the piece. In other words, throughout the concerto, the orchestra reiterates its introductory motifs at intervals, framing subsequent, elaborative solo episodes. The violin part evolves naturally, gradually increasing in speed and complexity of figuration and indulging in a fair amount of “crosstalk” with the surrounding orchestra. There’s a strong thematic unity in the concerto, but the three movements present and transform it in their own way. Of the two outer ones (Walker doesn’t use descriptive terms but gives metronome markings instead), the last follows tradition in being slightly faster, which prompts the violin to speedy virtuoso flourishes. Gregory Walker, the agile soloist and composer’s son, plays with all the fleet dexterity, precise intonation, and emotional flexibility his father might desire. He’s especially expressive in the second movement, imbuing it with a sustained, passionate intensity.

The three other orchestral pieces strike me as being somewhat homogeneous; there’s a distinct similarity to the thematic fragments comprising certain forceful orchestral “punctuations,” which, in turn, recall the concerto. Thus, the opening of the Sinfonia could be heard as an extension of that piece. Still, once past that reminiscence, there are some noteworthy, individual moments. For example, the Sinfonia’s second movement, with its hypnotically entrancing flute set off by delicately textured orchestral accompaniment, is a beautiful interlude, and the third movement has a jazzy quality that reminds me of Bernstein. Walker’s light, “conversational” orchestration eventually coalesces into full-throated string passages that pave the way for a more massive finish by the full orchestra. Foils , dedicated to the Chevalier Saint-Georges, reputed to be the finest fencer of his day and an admired composer and violinist, to boot, has a darkly dramatic opening. I don’t know if Walker had any specific scenario in mind, but I hear a certain back and forth in its exposition, almost as if he were trying to capture the cut and thrust of a duel shadowed by the threat of imminent death. Certainly this wouldn’t be a lighthearted exhibition of masterly swordplay. Opening with an appropriate fanfare, Pageant and Proclamation mixes what’s become known as the Americana style—often identified with Copland and others of his generation—with Walker’s personal idiom. Leisurely and pastoral in tone (after the initial “proclamation”), it gradually picks up momentum, exuding optimism. Light, dancing strings, clarinet, and flute highlights are sonorously augmented by brass outbursts, the whole growing toward the work’s conclusion, which discreetly quotes from When the Saints Come Marching In and We Shall Overcome before the final, cymbal-enhanced chord. It’s a fine piece of its type. Ian Hobson, the well-known pianist and conductor, leads the Sinfonia Varsovia, whose playing is exemplary—special kudos to flutist Andrzej Krzyzanowski for his contribution to the Sinfonia No. 2—in enthusiastic, detailed performances of all the works here, giving exceptional support to the violinist in the concerto.

FANFARE: Robert Schulslaper
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin by George Walker
Performer:  Gregory Walker (Violin)
Conductor:  Ian Hobson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sinfonia Varsovia
Period: 21st Century 
Written: 2007; USA 
Sinfonia no 2 by George Walker
Performer:  Andrzej Krzyzanowski (Flute)
Conductor:  Ian Hobson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sinfonia Varsovia
Written: USA 
Fugue in G major, BWV 577 "Gigue" by Johann Sebastian Bach
Conductor:  Ian Hobson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sinfonia Varsovia
Period: Baroque 
Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1: Prelude and Fugue no 1 in C, BWV 846 - Prelude by Johann Sebastian Bach
Conductor:  Ian Hobson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sinfonia Varsovia
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1722; Cöthen, Germany 

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