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Aikman: Venice Of The North Concerti / Lande, Wetherbee, Sullivan

Aikman / Wetherbee / Sullivan
Release Date: 08/30/2011 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559720   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  James Aikman
Performer:  Charles WetherbeeTaimur Sullivan
Conductor:  Vladimir Lande
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 55 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

AIKMAN Violin Concerto 1. Ania’s Song . Saxophone Concerto 2 1 Charles Wetherbee (vn); 2 Taimur Sullivan (sax); Vladimir Lande, cond; St. Petersburg St SO NAXOS 8.559720 (55:15)

Ever since the classical avant-garde became the rear guard, and polystylism became the watchword of the new avant-garde, I’ve Read more been slowly building a library of modern music. It’s admittedly not hard to do. A number of fine composers have rediscovered the joy of writing for an appreciative public, and with all of the past open to perusal—whatever else holds true, we are the most historically literate of musically minded generations—nothing is off-limits either in itself or as part of a continuum. Aikman’s music was brought to my attention more than a year ago, and I’ve been looking forward to reviewing a new disc of his music.

The Violin Concerto, “Lines in Motion,” dates from 2009. It’s in three movements, the first titled “Prologue/Improvisation.” A restrained, clockwork texture of pointillistic notes, reminiscent of Stravinsky in the 1930s, provides striking contrast to the soloist, who enters roughly a minute-and-a-half later in rhapsodic vein. Figurative Baroque touches appear in the cadenza. The finale, a toccata, continues with similar Baroque allusions, and Stravinsky is once again in the mix. The lack of contrasting elements and the overly insistent, simple, repetitive rondo theme make for pretty dry fare, though. It’s the weakest section of the concerto. But the central movement, a “Quasi una Fantasia” that’s considerably longer than both its musical bookends together, is the expressive heart of the work, and it’s a winner. Starting with a meditation on material from the first movement, the violin soon gains a greater lyrical ambit, and the piece at times recalls Barber in its harmonies and thematic warmth.

Ania’s Song (2006) was commissioned by a co-founder of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, Thomas Beczkiewicz. (The work is also a birthday gift to Beczkiewicz’s wife.) It’s probably just my imagination, but the opening intervals recall the start of the tune Happy Birthday . Calling it a slow-moving study of string textures would completely miss the graceful character of the piece, with an undertow of somberness.

The Alto Saxophone Concerto of 2010 opens with a movement titled “Call and Response.” (The work as a whole is derived from two previous pieces by Aikman, his Call and Response for alto saxophone and piano and a trio for clarinet, cello and piano.) It’s a moderately more astringent composition in its harmonies and moments of clashing bitonality, though never dense, and accompanied by Aikman’s frequent recourse to light, danceable rhythms. The second movement, “Refrains,” is a motoric toccata with a chant-like theme recalling Javanese gamelan music in its repetitiveness and intervals, but also features a contrasting countertheme in augmentation, and a subtler weighting of textures than in the Violin Concerto’s toccata. “Waltz Rounds” furnishes the relatively short finale. The dance itself is only suggested, both in rhythm and clichés, hinted at and playfully tossed about. It’s an attractive conclusion to a piece of music that is thoroughly entertaining, with very idiomatic writing throughout for its solo instrument.

The St. Petersburg musicians perform adequately under Vladimir Lande, but I find their readings a bit stodgy and uninflected. The “Waltz Rounds” in particular would have benefited from more vivacity and lift. By contrast, both Charles Wetherbee and Taimur Sullivan are first-rate soloists, with excellent tone and facility. The sound is good and forward.

In conclusion, this is a welcome album. Aikman demonstrates throughout a convincing control of orchestration and a subtle rhythmic palette. It doesn’t hurt, either, that he has at his command a nostalgic lyricism that creates still moments of grave beauty. Definitely recommended.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin "Lines in Motion" by James Aikman
Performer:  Charles Wetherbee (Violin)
Conductor:  Vladimir Lande
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra
Ania's Song by James Aikman
Conductor:  Vladimir Lande
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra
Concerto for Saxophone by James Aikman
Performer:  Taimur Sullivan (Saxophone)
Conductor:  Vladimir Lande
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra
Period: 21st Century 
Written: 2010 

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