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Lopatnikoff, Helps, Thomson, Kurka: Works / Albany Symphony

Release Date: 07/29/2003 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 591   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Nikolai LopatnikoffRobert HelpsVirgil ThomsonRobert Kurka
Performer:  Alan Feinberg
Conductor:  David Alan Miller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Albany Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

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

This extraordinary disc, which contains music by four American composers all writing in quite different styles, makes a fantastic program for continuous listening. Nikolai Lopatnikoff's Festival Overture is a big, noisy affair that brings to mind the muscular idiom of William Schuman: it's not very big on catchy tunes, but it packs a considerable punch and sustains an impressive 10 minutes of restless hustle and bustle.

Robert Helps was known equally well as a pianist and a composer, and his output is not large. The Second Piano Concerto takes less than 14 minutes, but it's an
Read more eventful quarter hour indeed. Stylistically its chromatic, freely atonal idiom recalls late Scriabin or perhaps the mature work of Frank Bridge. Its most recognizable melodic feature is the striking opening: repeated notes on the chime, accompanied by colorful woodwind ostinatos that return in various forms, and on various instruments, throughout the work. Alan Feinberg plays the piece beautifully, with elegance and a shapely sense of line, and despite the sometimes thorny idiom, Helps' love of the piano and his idiomatic writing clearly inform and sustain the music as it leaps impressively from the speakers. It's a haunting work with a quiet, surprise ending that will leave you vaguely unsatisfied (which seems to be the point).

Virgil Thomson's ballet Filling Station couldn't be more different. It finds his pert, folksy idiom in the service of a brief plot that takes place around the titular gasoline pumps somewhere in rural America. The ballet's 12 brief numbers require about 20 minutes and include a delicious tango, a charming "Dance of Family Life", a rousing something called "The Big Apple", a robbery, and a chase scene all punctuated by a recurring tune strikingly similar to "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow". And jolly good fun it is--beautifully played too, with some excellent work from the Albany woodwinds.

But conductor David Alan Miller saves the best for last: Robert Kurka's (of The Good Soldier Schweik fame) ebullient Second Symphony. This three-movement fiesta in sound comes across with Stravinskian energy allied to the wit of, say, Kurt Weill or Erwin Schulhoff. The finale alone must be accounted one of the most successful six minutes in American music, and the work is very strikingly scored with an extremely demanding and thrillingly played timpani part, virtually a soloist in the outer movements. Kurka's death from leukemia in 1957 at the age of 35 was a serious loss to 20th century American music, and sadly he did not live to hear the symphony performed. It belongs in the repertoire of every right thinking American orchestra and would make a terrific musical "calling card" on tour (it's a bit less than 20 minutes long, and so makes an ideal curtain raiser or "first half" piece).

As noted above, all of these works receive smashing performances from a clearly energized Albany Symphony under Miller, who saves an extra ounce of adrenaline for the orchestra's blazing attack on Kurka's marvelous symphony. The sound, whether in regular stereo or SACD, is simply demonstration class. This disc shows triumphantly that it is possible to put together an extremely varied program consisting entirely of unknown 20th century American music and have it prove just as rewarding as any selection of repertoire chestnuts. It only whets the appetite for more. [8/2/2003]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

Festival Overture, Op. 40 by Nikolai Lopatnikoff
Conductor:  David Alan Miller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Albany Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1960; USA 
Concerto for Piano no 2 by Robert Helps
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Conductor:  David Alan Miller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Albany Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1976; USA 
Filling Station by Virgil Thomson
Conductor:  David Alan Miller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Albany Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1937; USA 
Symphony no 2, Op. 24 by Robert Kurka
Conductor:  David Alan Miller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Albany Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1952; USA 

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