Rorem Flute Concerto; Violin Concerto
Ned Rorem’s position in the CD catalogue has improved recently thanks to José Serebrier. On a previous Naxos release (10/03) he celebrated Rorem’s 80th birthday with all three symphonies, dating from the 1950s – inexplicably they had hardly been performed in the intervening period. Their expansive scope contradicts the image of Rorem as a song specialist, although his 300 songs are widely admired. His often scintillating chamber music (New World, 10/92) is another aspect of his large output that should not be ignored. And then there are the operas…
Pilgrims, for strings, comes from the same decade as the symphonies. It’s not a patriotic celebration of the founding fathers but arises from the Bible via a novel by Julien Green and creates an austere commentary on a young suicide.
Rorem admits that he found it hard to give the right title to the two concertos. ‘Suite’ could be more apt since each has six movements, some with evocative titles, all in his discursive approach to the whole idea of concerto. The surefire song composer emerges in the 2002 Flute Concerto with a pretty ‘Romance without Words’ and the witty French influence comes out in a ‘False Waltz’ – there’s another in the 1985 Violin Concerto, now recorded without Bernstein’s growling noises (DG, 1/92).
Rorem says that his music is ‘a diary no less compromising than my prose’. Could be – and the cover sports a sketch Jean Cocteau made of him at the piano. These are committed performances all round and first recordings of Pilgrims and the Flute Concerto. This is relaxed and indulgent music, even if these works are not the best from this now grand old man of American music.