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American Stringbook / Dogma Chamber Orchestra

Diamond / Do.gma Chamber Orchestra / Gurewitsch
Release Date: 03/13/2012 
Label:  Audiomax   Catalog #: 9121717  
Composer:  David DiamondSamuel BarberArthur FooteWilliam Schuman
Conductor:  Matthew Gurewitsch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Do.gma Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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SuperAudio CD:  $18.99
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

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DIAMOND Rounds. FOOTE Suite in E. BARBER Serenade. Adagio for Strings. SCHUMAN Read more class="ARIAL12b">Symphony No. 5

The Dogma Chamber Orchestra is a young European group of string players who perform without a conductor. Their artistic director is their concertmaster, Mikhail Gurewitsch. Dogma performs standing up, which perhaps helps explain the intensity of their playing. They have elected here to play a program of American works for strings that is both unusual and enterprising. Surely if this CD were being marketed by a major label, some executive would have insisted on the presence of Gershwin, Bernstein, or Copland, all of whom are absent. Instead, we have a selection of works all written before the end of World War II—in other words, prior to the rise of the atonal avant-garde in America. The composer Easley Blackwood has said that composing atonal music is like writing prose, while composing tonal works is like writing poetry. All the pieces on this album are pure poetry. The CD harks back to a time when the American musical landscape was not saturated by competing “isms,” and when sincerity of utterance was valued above all other qualities. It is a lost world we only can hope to return to.

David Diamond’s Rounds opens with a movement of beautiful polyphony. It has the melodic sense of old-time gospel tunes. Dogma handles its syncopations brilliantly. Next, the Adagio has a meditative quality, similar to Aaron Copland’s music for the film of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town . In the finale, there is the snap and sparkle one finds in Benjamin Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. Each section of the orchestra here produces lovely string tone. The Praeludium of Arthur Foote’s Suite in E brings to mind Dvo?ák’s String Serenade in its gracious melodic writing with a tinge of sadness. The next movement opens with a pizzicato effect similar to the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. There follows a quiet and wistful B section, taking over the undercurrent of grief from the Praeludium. The concluding fugue, in its darkness and energy, seems derived from Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue. If you never have experienced Arthur Foote before, perhaps this suite will lead you to discover his elegantly crafted chamber music.

Samuel Barber’s Serenade is new to me. It is a precocious work for a 19-year-old. The piece’s luminous sound quality seems influenced by Sibelius, particularly Rakastava; Barber’s concluding dance is notably Nordic in its delicacy, restraint, and coolness. William Schuman’s Fifth Symphony at its start announces that it is epic in scope, exhibiting galvanizing energy. The second movement’s string textures are like shifting sands, always threatening to disappear. Dogma’s quiet playing sustains this feeling beautifully, a notable test of virtuosity. The movement finally reaches a crisis, then subsides toward a half-hearted cadence. Schuman concludes with a Presto that creates a growing sense of worlds in motion, each spinning on its own axis. I had the opportunity to compare Dogma’s performance to one by Yuli Turovsky conducting I Musici de Montréal. Surprisingly, the ensemble playing by Dogma is better, without a conductor. Turovsky’s interpretation does possess greater flexibility. I like both versions.

Dogma’s CD ends appropriately with Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Their rendition supplies the perfect antidote for anyone who has grown tired of this piece. It is relaxed, measured, sensitive, and unhackneyed, definitely benefitting from the intimacy of a chamber orchestra. The sound engineering on the CD layer is clear and firm, with a convincing soundstage. A bit more glow to the string tone would have been welcome. I am unable to audition the SACD layer. To have produced such an intriguing CD as its second release bodes well for the artistic future of Dogma. Perhaps it will help make this repertoire the property of ensembles outside the U.S. Now that native listeners have rediscovered the products of the American romantic tradition, it is time that the rest of the world celebrates this music. Dogma’s CD definitely points in this direction.

FANFARE: Dave Saemann
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Works on This Recording

Rounds by David Diamond
Conductor:  Matthew Gurewitsch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Do.gma Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944; United States 
Adagio for Strings, Op. 11 by Samuel Barber
Conductor:  Matthew Gurewitsch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Do.gma Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936; Rome, Italy 
Serenade for Strings, Op. 1 by Samuel Barber
Conductor:  Matthew Gurewitsch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Do.gma Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1929; USA 
Suite for Strings in E major, Op. 63 by Arthur Foote
Conductor:  Matthew Gurewitsch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Do.gma Chamber Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1907/1908; USA 
Symphony no 5 "Symphony for Strings" by William Schuman
Conductor:  Matthew Gurewitsch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Do.gma Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1943; USA 

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