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Serebrier: Symphony No 1, Violin Concerto / Callow, Karr, Quint, Bournemouth Symphony

Serebrier / Quint / Serebrier / Karr / Callow
Release Date: 08/31/2010 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559648   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  José Serebrier
Performer:  Gary KarrSimon CallowDavid DalyPhilippe Quint,   ... 
Conductor:  José Serebrier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony OrchestraBournemouth Symphony Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SEREBRIER Symphony No. 1. Neuve : Double Bass Concerto. 1 Violin Concerto 2. Tango en Azul. Casi un Tango. They Rode Into The Sunset – Music for an Imaginary Film 3. José Serebrier, cond; Bournemouth SO; 1 Gary Karr (db); 1 Simon Callow (nar); Read more class="SUPER12">1,3 Bornemouth SC; 2 Philippe Quint (vn) NAXOS 8.559648 (71:35)

You certainly cannot pigeonhole the music of José Serebrier, if this survey is any guide. It does cover a broad period, from the youthful Symphony No. 1 of 1956 to the movie music for a film that was never made, in 2009. As related by the composer in the extensive program notes, all of these pieces have an interesting story behind them, none more so than the symphony. Serebrier was still a student at the Curtis Institute of Music in 1957 when, as he says, he literally bumped into a cello student on the street and spilled the pages of his manuscript onto the sidewalk. The cellist, Harvey Wolf, was on his way to join the Houston Symphony, then led by Leopold Stokowski, and suggested that he show the music to the great old man. Against all odds, Stokowski agreed to read the score, and liked it well enough to put it in the place of the Ives Fourth Symphony, which was giving his players trouble. Serebrier actually ignored the Curtis operator’s messages to return Stokowski’s phone calls, thinking it a student prank. Finally, Curtis director Efrem Zimbalist summoned the fledgling composer to his office; “What are you doing? Maestro Stokowski called me to say he’s been trying to reach you urgently for two days!”

It is not too hard to imagine what drew Stokowski to the music. It is a good showpiece, full of the kind of sweeping dramatic gestures that the wizard reveled in, as well as flashy writing for instrumentalists, especially in the brass. Today we might hear it as a decent work by a very talented and impressionable young man, responding to the influence of midcentury Russian music, Shostakovich in particular. The rumbling opening has the flavor of Mahler as well. A derivative work, to be sure, but built upon a good structure and natural sense for theatrical effectiveness.

That ability falters in the 1971 Concerto for Double Bass, written for the preeminent virtuoso of that instrument, Gary Karr. This is very much a period piece, wildly ambitious, at times amusingly eclectic, elsewhere merely annoying. For starters, inserting a dramatic reading of a poem (twice!) into a concerto is simply odd. Even if it is a decent work (in this case, Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound ), and even if it is nicely read, as it is here by the fine English classical actor Simon Callow, I can’t see how it can work more than once, if even that. More oddness: the appearance of a jazz percussion ensemble well into the concerto, and the oohing and aahing of the proverbial ethereal choir to draw the messy piece to a spacey conclusion. As a cultural relic of the back end of the Age of Aquarius this work has some merit. As a lasting work of art, not so much.

The Violin Concerto, completed two decades after the Concerto for Double Bass, is a far more coherent and interesting work. It is subtitled “Winter,” an allusion to a dark, even bleak character, especially as the one-movement work begins, with a slow solo cadenza at the low end of the violin’s range. As if to signal the changes of the seasons, the work brightens as it proceeds, with subtly integrated quotes from Haydn, Glazunov, and Tchaikovsky, all of whom also wrote musical odes to winter. The conclusion is the emotional reverse of the beginning, a bright, raucous fanfare. This is an impressive, compact concerto, easily the best work on this program.

The two tangos are fluffy fillers, though well put together. They Rode Into The Sunset—Music for an Imaginary Film was commissioned by a Bollywood studio that closed down production as a result of a long strike after Serebrier had already completed the music. I don’t think that he conceived of the work as a parody, but it sounds like one. The coda, complete with a reprise from that wordless choir of the Concerto for Double Bass and a slow, thumping crescendo, is the kind of writing that gives movie music a bad rap. The performance is excellent; the Bournemouth band gives us rich and precise playing, and we can assume that the leadership is authoritative.

FANFARE: Peter Burwasser


José Serebrier is obviously a very talented composer, and it's good that Naxos is giving him the opportunity to record his music under optimal conditions. The First Symphony is an impressive piece of work, especially for a Uruguayan teenage musician of just 18. Like most of Serebrier's work, there's a lyrical side to much of the material that's quite winning, but the style and "feel" of the music, its single-movement form, and its alternation of melodic episodes with powerfully rhythmic outbursts are quite modern as well as personal.

However, perhaps the two most enjoyable large works here are the Violin Concerto "Winter" (another single-movement piece lasting a bit more than 15 minutes, and wonderfully played by Philippe Quint) and the Music for an Imaginary Film (2009). Actually the film was real; it just became imaginary when a strike forced its cancellation and Serebrier got stuck with the music he had already written. It's extremely colorful and fun.

The two short "tango" pieces have obvious appeal as encores or musical "calling cards", and the only relative disappointment concerns the Double Bass Concerto, which also features a speaker (nominally the soloist, but here Simon Callow), chorus, and players stationed all over the hall. I totally sympathize with Serebrier's attempt to do something experimental and interesting with what is basically a hopeless assignment, but still... Happily, it only lasts 13 minutes, and the performance is terrific, if you're into this sort of thing. Indeed, given Serebrier's gifts as a conductor there's nothing to criticize here regarding the performances, and the engineering is very good also. Recommended wholeheartedly.

--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 1 by José Serebrier
Conductor:  José Serebrier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1955 
Concerto for Double Bass "Nueve" by José Serebrier
Performer:  Gary Karr (Double Bass), Simon Callow (Narrator), David Daly (Double Bass)
Conductor:  José Serebrier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra,  Bournemouth Symphony Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1971 
Concerto for Violin "Winter" by José Serebrier
Performer:  Philippe Quint (Violin), Duncan Riddell (Violin)
Conductor:  José Serebrier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1991 
Tango en Azul by José Serebrier
Conductor:  José Serebrier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2001; Uruguay 
Casi Un Tango by José Serebrier
Performer:  Ellen Marsden (English Horn)
Conductor:  José Serebrier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2002; Uruguay 
They Rode Into the Sunset "Music for an Imaginary Film" by José Serebrier
Conductor:  José Serebrier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra,  Bournemouth Symphony Chorus

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Of Varied Quality December 30, 2014 By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews "There is nothing particularly wrong with this recording- the sound is just fine, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra plays up to its usual high standards, and the program offers a variety of forms.... and yet I came away from my initial hearing with some uncertainty about several of the works. Composer Jose' Serebrier (who conducted the BSO on this recording) certainly has written some fine material throughout his career, and on this disk the shorter works (2 modified tangos and pseudo film music) seem to work best. Symphony #1 struck me as decent and generally worthwhile, if not exceptional in its impact. However, the 2 concertos on this recording (for violin and double bass) didn't work for me very well. The violin concerto is adequate at best, but the double bass concerto is close to a disaster. I did not (and probably won't) see the merit in adding a narrator into the score of a concerto, which happened here. Bottom line is this: in my view, this is an acceptable, but not compelling, recording." Report Abuse
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