Modern Masters I

Author: 
Edward Seckerson

Modern Masters I

  • Tripartita
  • Folk Suite
  • Triple Concerto a tre
  • Emek
  • Tripartita
  • Folk Suite
  • Triple Concerto a tre
  • Emek

How good once more to see the name Miklos Rozsa top-billed on something other than a film soundtrack album. Christopher Palmer reminds us that his very first orchestral work, Theme, Variations and Finale was on the programme the day that Leonard Bernstein stepped in at Carnegie Hall for an ailing Bruno Walter (November, 1943). Bernstein conducted that world premiere virtually from sight. And the rest, of course, is history. Rozsa was 25 at the time and Hollywood soon beckoned. Some 80 films and three Oscars later (his magnificent work on William Wyler's Ben-Hur among them) we arrive at the period of this composition, Tripartita for orchestra, written in 1972 when he was 65. The Rozsa handprinting is unmistakable. Years of gripping movie narrative have given this music a natural propulsive energy: a dramatic ''Intrada'' is the musical equivalent of high-velocity tracking shots and explosive jump-cutting. Then come the swirling highly-strung melismas of the second movement ''Arioso'' (a cross-fertilization of the Hungarian and the Hebraic). The tone is tragic but the emotion inspirational. And the colours: from sinewy Waltonesque bassoon and the nocturnal glinting of harp and celeste to heady solo violin pitched in alt. against sepulchral tam-tam. In sonorous sound with much impact, this is involving, exceedingly well-made music with the highest entertainment factor.
Menotti's admirers should make straight for the slow movement of his Triplo Concerto a tre where they'll find a very enticing example of his fragrant melodic style—the kind of tune that insinuates its way into the taste-buds and lingers. The novelty element here and throughout the piece is its scoring—three instrumental groups of three (strings, woodwind, and piano/harp/percussion) rubbing together like stones, sparking and resounding off one another: romantic string legatos; woodwinds now witty, now mellifluous; piano, harp and percussion tangily off-beat. The effect is fresh, unpredictable, eminently catchy; scant material goes a long way, engagingly spun out in the best concerto grosso traditions. Lightweight fare, but almost in spite of myself I've been moved to repeat the experience several times already.
Which is more than I can truthfully say for Morton Gould's Folk Suite of 1938. Originally composed for the High School of Music and Art in New York, this innocuous little triptych breezily sings the Yankee vernacular: a curtain-raising hoe-down, a somewhat stilted ''Blues'', which two saxophones go some way towards liberating, and a barn-dancing Irish ''Jig''—all repeated note patterns and boisterous xylophone. Marc Lavry's symphonic poem Emek also ends in frenzied activity with a pulsating ''Hora''. Leonard Bernstein took this piece on his first American tour with the Israel Philharmonic—and it isn't hard to see why. Lavry wrote it in 1936, inspired by the young Israeli settlers of the Emek Valley. This is new-day-dawning music born of the land with much folkloric improvisation in solo woodwinds and one bold, striving melody. The high-voltage virtuosity of the final dance says much for David Amos and the London Symphony whose work here rises well above the level of glorified sight- reading—which was more than likely the case. ''Modern Masters I'' proclaims the booklet cover. I await ''Modern Masters II''. No masterpieces yet, but ample enjoyment.'

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