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C. Jones - New & Historical Recordings / Macomber, McMillan

Release Date: 05/31/2005 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 752   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Charles Jones
Performer:  Blair McMillenCurtis MacomberWilliam Masselos
Conductor:  Michael Adelson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gävleborg Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 58 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Charles Jones (1910–1997) is a name that crops up on the resume of many contemporary composers—as a teacher. His long tenure at Juilliard’s composition department produced many students filled with gratitude for his warm support and tremendous breadth of knowledge, as well as admiration for his fine compositional skills. In this respect, his career bears resemblance to his Juilliard colleague Vincent Persichetti, another artist who never achieved wide spread fame as a composer, and yet was revered by the professional community for his brilliance as a musician and enormous influence as a teacher.

Jones may Read more not belong on quite so high a pedestal as Persichetti, but this miniomnibus of his music reveals a composer of no little ability and charm, as expressed with a distinctly American directness and clarity. The music for violin and piano, written in 1945, is pithy and often frolicsome, with a neo-Baroque decorative construction. The piano music is ambitious and large of voice, but not over reaching. The big bones of the music, and the rugged beauty puts Jones in a class with his fellow Americans of a similar manner of communication in solo piano music-writing, including Ives, Barber, and Copland. The Symphony is, almost paradoxically, something of a mix of the styles of the two preceding works here, with moments of wispy delicacy side by side with the heroic gesture. Jones demonstrates a mastery of form in the Symphony; just when he seems to be veering off in an odd direction, the music suddenly snaps back into place with surprising precision. It is, in the end, a very satisfying listening experience, akin to eating a well-made stew.

Performances are excellent, even special. I have had the pleasure of hearing Curtis Macomber perform live many times (as the violinist for Speculum Musicae), and his spirit, technical aplomb, and selfless dedication to contemporary music is always an inspiration, as it is here. The esteemed American pianist William Masselos, who also premiered music of Ives and Copland, is heard in this 1959 recording of tremendous heft and precision. Finally, there is the robust yet virtuosic playing of the Gävleborgs Symphony Orchestra, of Sweden, conducted by Michael Adelson, an ardent devotee of Jones. The program annotator, music critic Tim Page, was himself a Jones student.

FANFARE: Peter Burwasser

One never stops discovering. And one doesn’t want to. Charles Jones may be a common name, and of this particular one—a composer and teacher born in Tamworth, Canada, in 1910, and who died in 1997—I knew nothing. I am now delighted to know some of his music, would be pleased to hear more, and I have much enjoyed catching up with the personality (who lived in New York from 1946) that Tim Page writes so warmly about in his booklet note. Jones, also a violinist, studied and then taught at Juilliard, and was also academically involved in other institutions. His catalog of compositions embraces more than 90 works.

This very welcome release begins with the five Melodies (1945), a wonderful introduction to Jones’s music. If one hears Copland and Stravinsky in these varied miniatures, one also hears a distinctive and imaginative voice, in which the smallest details, always deeply considered, make an impressive whole. This is music of folksy rhythms and generous melody; modest music, in one sense, but it sucks you in. Recorded in 2003, in New York’s American Academy of Arts and Letters, Curtis Macomber and Blair McMillen make a strong and sensitive case for this lovely, beautifully crafted music; excellently recorded, too, with an exact balance between the two musicians: a real duo, not a violinist accompanied by a pianist. Jones’s careful calibration between violin and piano deserves nothing less.

Piano Sonata No. 2 (1950)—played here, in 1959, by William Masselos in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC—has its tough side, but it is not forbidding: a “mixture of heart and muscle” to quote Page’s apposite description. This is music right up there with the Ives and Copland that Masselos also championed; Charles Jones’s Piano Sonata No. 2 is magnificently executed by Masselos, who brings identity and tension to a challenging, rigorous, vividly communicative, and ultimately rewarding score; a live performance it seems. The music’s strength of character might be described as Beethovenian, and the relative spareness of the central Adagio totally sustains the listener’s attention. The finale is a trenchant summation; this is music that demands several listens in order to discover more. Joe Deihl’s audio restoration is very expert; one can concentrate on this absorbing music without the distraction of (too many) sonic deficiencies or, more importantly, the contamination that can be introduced by the digital re-mastering process.

Symphony No. 3 (1962)—which is dedicated on his 70th birthday to Darius Milhaud, a friend of longstanding—is attractive in its elusiveness as the expressive lines entwine in the somewhat pastoral opening movement. A decidedly uneasy scherzo-like movement follows, the slower, rather angular, music being emotionally troubled, it seems, and quite dissonant; and, on another level, Jones’s use of the orchestra, in the contrasts of solo and tutti, is as unpredictable as it is inventive. The short finale, “Epilogue,” doesn’t quite round off this fascinating work, and, if, in all honesty, this seems more a suite than a symphony, there is some striking material here. Michael Adelson, on the conducting staff of the New York Philharmonic, in this recording from either 1993 (Page) or 1994 (booklet information), gets a committed response from the Swedish orchestra. The sound is decent enough and seems more analog than digital. (A comment, not a criticism!)

I have been bowled over by the music here, especially the Melodies and the Sonata. There seems a very strong case for a thorough investigation of Charles Jones’s music. Tim Page mentions a release from 1999 of chamber and solo pieces (on Albany?), and one hopes more of Jones’s output will be forthcoming.

FANFARE: Colin Anderson
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Works on This Recording

Melodies (5) for Violin and Piano by Charles Jones
Performer:  Blair McMillen (Piano), Curtis Macomber (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1945; USA 
Date of Recording: 11/06/2003 
Venue:  American Academy of Arts and Letters,NYC 
Length: 16 Minutes 4 Secs. 
Sonata for Piano no 2 by Charles Jones
Performer:  William Masselos (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1950; USA 
Date of Recording: 11/05/2003 
Venue:  American Academy of Arts and Letters,NYC 
Length: 22 Minutes 46 Secs. 
Symphony no 3 by Charles Jones
Conductor:  Michael Adelson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gävleborg Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1962; USA 
Date of Recording: 11/06/2003 
Venue:  American Academy of Arts and Letters,NYC 
Length: 16 Minutes 16 Secs. 

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