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Ned ROREM (b.1923)
Pilgrims (1958) [7:14]
Flute Concerto (2002) [31:21]
Violin Concerto (1985) [24:07]
Jeffrey Khaner (flute)
Philippe Quint (violin)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/José Serebrier
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, June 2005. DDD

Anyone who has bought and enjoyed previous Rorem discs in this series (including symphonies, chamber music and songs) might as well just click on the “Buy Now” link right away. And anyone who is interested but hasn’t heard the previous discs should do the same for this would be an excellent place to start. Rorem’s soundworld is immediately accessible and he is surely among the most interesting and worthwhile of contemporary composers. These well-recorded discs with near-definitive performances are one of the glories of the Naxos American Classics series.
The centre-piece flute concerto here receives it first recording and hardly sounds like the work of a late-septuagenarian. It was written for Jeffrey Khaner who is principal flute of the Philadelphia Orchestra and apparently to address a hole in the repertoire (OK – how many modern flute concertos can you name?). The composer has written that he had difficulty finding a title for the work – Suite, Six Pieces and Odyssey were all eventually discarded in favour of ‘concerto’. Each of the six movements has a title – (i) The Stone Tower, (ii) Leaving-traveling-hoping, (iii) Sirens, (iv) Hymn, (v) False Waltz and (vi) Résumé and Prayer. Relatively large forces including a piano are needed but Rorem uses them sparingly, notably in Hymn which is effectively a quintet for piano and wind. Not obviously a vehicle for virtuosity, it nevertheless makes many demands of Khaner who meets them with aplomb and unfaltering tone. Long on atmosphere and short on angst, there is ultimately a coherent thread to this work which makes it compelling listening.
The Violin Concerto is also in six named movements and, again, the composer seems to have had some doubts about its concerto status. Jaime Laredo gave the first performance and it has been recorded before by Gidon Kremer (see review). The generally darker nature of this work is reflected in the titles: (i) Twilight, (ii) Toccata-Chaconne, (iii) Romance without words, (iv) Midnight, (v) Toccata-Rondo, (vi) Dawn. Nevertheless the Romance is quite lovely and the day that finally dawns is probably going to work out well enough. Philippe Quint’s rendition has both verve and compassion.
The concertos are preceded by another first recording – Pilgrims, a prelude for string orchestra. In the booklet, José Serebrier tells us that the idea for this work came in 1949 but it was composed on a single day in September 1958. The title is not what it might seem to be – this is in commemoration of an adolescent schizoid who committed suicide. The music has great depth of feeling and humanity.
Some words of praise are in order for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Even if they presumably only got the job because of the well-publicised difficulties of recording U.S. orchestras, they certainly give this their collective all. Serebrier is obviously in his element and the result is invariably idiomatic. If you didn’t already click on the “Buy Now” link above, there should be another below.
Patrick C Waller

see also review by Rob Barnett


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