HAILSTORK Symphony No. 1. 3 Spirituals. An American Port of Call. Fanfare on Amazing Grace. Whitman’s Journey: Launch Out on Endless Seas1 • JoAnn Falletta, cond; 1Kevin Deas (bar); Virginia SO & 1Ch • NAXOS 8.559722 (59:08 Text and Translation) Live: Norfolk, VA 5/18/2011
I first heard AdolphusRead more Hailstork’s work in his children’s opera, Joshua’s Boots, when it was produced by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 1999. That experience sent me off looking for more. William Zagorski had included a recording on the Albany label titled Symphonic Brotherhood: The Music of African-American Composers in his 1994 Want List (Fanfare 18:2). It includes a recording of Hailstork’s First Symphony, a work that exudes the appeal of Americana-style compositions by such fellow Nadia Boulanger alums as Aaron Copland and Elie Siegmeister. Conservative then by definition, tonal—no, melodic—beautifully crafted, and quintessentially American, Hailstork’s symphony, and the other orchestral music included here, are the perfect things to be reviewing on a hot July 4 holiday.
Hailstork is a professor of music at Old Dominion University and one of its honored Eminent Scholar faculty. Between 1977 and 2000 he taught at Norfolk State University, so the connection with the Virginia Symphony and JoAnn Falletta is a longstanding one, and his work was included on their first joint CD release in 1997. There are actually a fair number of Hailstork’s pieces available, largely in such anthologies. However, this all-Hailstork disc supplements the 2007 Naxos release of the composer’s Symphonies 2 and 3, and complements the four CDs that Albany has devoted to his songs, and his keyboard, chamber, and organ music.
The title work on this CD, An American Port of Call (1985), is Hailstork’s most-recorded work. Commissioned by the Virginia Symphony, it celebrates Norfolk with unbridled energy and touches of nostalgia. The exuberant Three Spirituals (2005) consists of orchestral settings of works originally written for pipe organ, each offering a distinctive character, with the composer channeling Richard Rodgers and George Gershwin, a bit of New Orleans swing, and some revival fervor. Fanfare on Amazing Grace (2003), originally a work for organ, brass, and percussion, is an effective opener with some creative transformations of the hymn tune.
The four-movement symphony, classical in design and scale, was written for a summer music festival, and it is open-air music in the best sense: full of character and instantly ingratiating. It is, however, the previously unrecorded Walt Whitman setting, Whitman’s Journey: Launch Out on Endless Seas (2005) that makes this issue stand out. Hailstork’s writing for chorus is his especial strength, and here it is particularly grateful. Copland may come to mind at first, but it is another influence, David Diamond, that can be detected here in the chromatic, questing thrust of the work. And it is the composer’s African-American heritage that inevitably informs the concluding “O to Sing the Most Jubilant Song!” If Hailstork seems to wander in the preceding storm-tossed verses of “Aboard at a Ship’s Helm,” he clearly finds his way again as the bass soloist sings those final stirring words from Song of Myself. Sonorous bass-baritone Kevin Deas projects words and music with striking conviction, and the choral performance is clean and thoroughly engaged.
Now, it must be said that where this release duplicates repertoire already available, it really is not first choice. The performances are lovely, but in the main slightly cautious. The Czech orchestra on the earlier recording of the symphony and the Paul Freeman-led Chicago Sinfonietta on Çedille’s recording of An American Port of Call both have greater vitality and more contrast and interpretive freedom, which serves these works well.
However, I don’t want to throw a damper on any enthusiasm I have managed to generate for this disc. The engineers have done their job well. Falletta and her Norfolk-based ensemble present these works with distinction, and they offer several desirable works otherwise not available. If it is these, or simply an introduction to the works of this American master that you are seeking, you can’t go wrong with this release.
Fine Disk of Modern American MusicOctober 20, 2012By Henry S. (Springfield, VA)See All My Reviews"To my knowledge, this is the first recording by the Virginia Symphony Orchestra for Naxos, and the VSO does not disappoint. Led by its excellent conductor Joanne Falletta, it presents a varied series of works by the Norfolk-based composer Adolphus Hailstork. Symphony #1, 3 Spirituals (played brilliantly), An American Port of Call (which like Gershwin's An American in Paris depicts the hustle and bustle of a great city, in this case Norfolk, Va.- the VSO's home), and Fanfare on Amazing Grace are all dynamic and ebullient works, full of cheer and melody. The disk concludes with a choral work based on texts by Walt Whitman. While the orchestra, soloist, and chorus provide a high quality reading of this piece (titled Launch Out on Endless Seas), nevertheless the inherent difficulty of matching a complex literary text with a symphonic score in an effective and accessible way must be acknowledged here. Some may conclude that 'accessibility' is slightly lacking; it is a real challenge to absorb Whitman's metaphor-laced text as it is being sung by a huge chorus and full orchestra. This slight doubt about the effectiveness of this last piece is the only factor preventing a full 5-star rating by this reviewer. Everyone should enjoy this very good recording, and I do recommend it."Report Abuse