The imaginative, bright young resident ensemble at London’s Kings Place launch their Warner Classics contract with what we used to call a ‘concept album’ based on a concert programme. The theme is a series of adventures and images of life on the road, mostly North American save the traditional folksongs ‘Reynardine’ and ‘The Brown Girl’. The chamber orchestral works – the Ives and the Copland both appear in their reduced versions – are interspersed with songs sung by Sam Amidon and Dawn Landes but brought gently into the orchestral context by the arrangements of contemporary American composer Nico Muhly.
Mixed concert programmes often become less satisfying and more abstract on CD. In this case, the choice and placing of Adams’s Chamber Symphony – where Schoenberg’s identically titled Op 9 is aurally combined with overheard cartoon music – opens up a window for revaluing the achievements of Copland’s Martha Graham ballet as more than a seed bed for the ‘Lord of the Dance’ melody, as well as drawing attention to Ives’s layered tone portrait of the river. All the orchestral performances are sharp, lively and (in the case of the Adams) impressively funky.
The choice of folksongs is also an acute one, although Amidon’s interpretations are really too neutral to do justice to the characteristic irony present in Paul Simon’s own performance of the bittersweet portrait of a marriage fading and reviving or to match the sheer fear that Fairport Convention bring to the traveller-eating werefox Reynardine. Landes’s ‘The Brown Girl’ is more successful in its detachment. This reservation aside, warm recommendations for both repertoire and realisation.