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Barber, Bloch, Copland / Alexa Still, Susan Dewitt Smith


Release Date: 01/25/1995 
Label:  Koch International Classics Catalog #: 7144   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Samuel BarberErnest BlochAaron CoplandEldin Burton,   ... 
Performer:  Alexa StillSusan DeWitt Smith
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 18 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Here is a very attractive and musically substantial disc featuring American flute music composed between the years 1928 (the Porter and the Copland Vocalise) and 1982 (the Rochberg). As I recall, Still's previous Koch disc was very well received in this and other publications. She is principal flutist of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, and her level of artistry certainly illustrates the decentralized and unpredictable distribution of instrumental talent among the world's orchestras today.

For me the most interesting piece of music on the disc is what I believe to be the first recording ever of Ernest Bloch's last completed work, Two Last Poems, written in 1958, some months before his death. Bloch's concerns are certainly
Read more made explicit by the section subtitles, “Funeral Music“ and “Life Again?“ The first runs into the second without pause, and together they comprise a substantial fourteen-minute work of deep reflection. The first piece is appropriately solemn and soul-searching, while the second, despite its subtitle, is similar in tone and quite plaintive, although it eventually resolves itself into the resigned acquiescence that concludes so many documents of Bloch's spiritual and metaphysical quest. All devotees of the composer's music will want to know what is essentially his final statement. The real disappointment here is that the work was intended for flute and orchestra and what we really have here is a piano reduction—and I'm afraid it sounds like one, as the orchestra's role is significant and idiomatically orchestral. This is in no way the fault of the pianist, Susan DeWitt Smith, who is superb throughout the disc.

Robert Muczynski is—like Nicolas Flagello and Lee Hoiby—from the last generation of authentic traditionalists, and, like his contemporaries, has yet to receive the attention that his music warrants. His is mid-century conservative American neo-classicism with real personality, verve, and conviction, and—unlike Flagello and Hoiby—seems most comfortably expressed in chamber music. From the late 1970s through the mid 1980s, Laurel Record brought out a sizable portion of his output, and long-time Fanfare readers will remember how favorably all those records were received. Muczynski's 1961 flute sonata is one of his most widely performed works, and its popularity is easy to understand. Its four short movements are strongly characterized, with memorable themes, varied moods, and a coherent expressive attitude.

Laurel released a recording of Muczynski's Flute Sonata with former New York Philharmonic principal Julius Baker accompanied by the composer, a gifted pianist (see Fanfare 8:4, pp. 265-66).

Hard as it may be to believe, Still and Smith offer a performance that is at least as meticulously executed and thoughtfully conceived. My only reservation about Still is that her tone is a bit more diluted than I prefer; I would like somewhat more density and richness. But this pianist really impresses me; I'd like to hear her in solo repertoire.

Aaron Copland's Duo is a late work (1971), although it took no time to enter the active flute repertoire. The fourteen-minute piece is quite attractive, inhabiting the composer's comfortably familiar diatonic idiom, although it is somewhat more reflective and introspective than his better-known earlier works. The early Vocalise, originally for high voice and piano, is pretty inconsequential.

Eldin Burton (1913-85) spent most of his life in Georgia, and never developed much of a reputation. But his Sonatina, which won a competition for flute music in 1948, is played fairly often. It is a lovely nine-minute work, without an awkward or unpleasant moment, right from its shimmering opening, which sounds halfway between Faúré and Ravel.

George Rochberg's Between Two Worlds (Ukiyo-e HI) refers to an ancient Japanese woodprint style that involved subjective images. The piece is in five short movements, with wispy and disjunct gestures that owe as much to the Second Viennese School as to Japanese sources of inspiration (if not more). However, the music is tastefully and sensitively shaped and, thus, not without evocative effect.

Samuel Barber's Canzone for flute and piano is another relatively recent piece that has rapidly entered the active repertoire. Written in 1959 and originally entitled Elegy, it was orchestrated and expanded a year or two later to become the second movement of the composer's piano concerto. Although the music is better known in that guise, it is fast developing its own identity as Canzone. For those unfamiliar with it, a pentatonic melody exuding Barber's characteristically warm and poignant lyricism is presented in varied textural dress.

Quincy Porter composed his brief Blues Lontains in Paris, shortly after completing his studies with Bloch. The piece lacks a strong profile, but is pleasant enough, with some nice moments of rhythmic interest.

All these pieces are played with fine musicianship and technical polish by Alexa Still; as noted earlier, Susan De Witt Smith imbues the piano parts with a sense of deep musical understanding.

-- Walter Simmons, FANFARE [7/1993] Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Canzone for Flute and Piano, Op. 38a by Samuel Barber
Performer:  Alexa Still (Flute), Susan DeWitt Smith (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961; USA 
2.
Last Poems (2) by Ernest Bloch
Performer:  Alexa Still (Flute), Susan DeWitt Smith (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1958; USA 
Notes: Transcribed: Ernest Bloch 
3.
Vocalise for Flute and Piano by Aaron Copland
Performer:  Susan DeWitt Smith (Piano), Alexa Still (Flute)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1972; USA 
4.
Duo for Flute and Piano by Aaron Copland
Performer:  Susan DeWitt Smith (Piano), Alexa Still (Flute)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1971; USA 
5.
Sonatina for Flute and Piano by Eldin Burton
Performer:  Alexa Still (Flute), Susan DeWitt Smith (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; USA 
6.
Sonata for Flute and Piano, Op. 14 by Robert Muczynski
Performer:  Susan DeWitt Smith (Piano), Alexa Still (Flute)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1960-1961; USA 
7.
Between Two Worlds "Ukiyo-e III" by George Rochberg
Performer:  Susan DeWitt Smith (Piano), Alexa Still (Flute)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1982; USA 
8.
Blues lontains by Quincy Porter
Performer:  Susan DeWitt Smith (Piano), Alexa Still (Flute)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928; USA 

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