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Thomas M. SLEEPER (born 1956)

Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra (1992)a
Margaret Shelton MEIER (born 1936)

The Dawning (1994)b
Haydn REEDER (born 1944)

Lark 2 (1996)
Larry BELL (born 1952)

Piano Concerto Op.33 (1989)c
Kathryn Sleeper (bassoon)a; Bozhena Petrova (celesta)b; Larry Bell (piano)c; The Ruse Philharmonic Orchestra, Bulgaria; Tsanko Delibozov, Thomas Sleeper
Recorded: no information available, published 1996

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All the composers, but one, featured in this release are new to me. In fact, Larry Bellís name may be somewhat more familiar since some of his music is available in commercial recordings (among others on VMM 3016 and on NORTH/SOUTH RECORDINGS).

Sleeperís large-scale and ambitious Bassoon Concerto was written for Kathryn Sleeper (his sister?) and first performed by her in August 1993 in Beijing. It is in three substantial movements (Faust and Psyche, Eros and Psyche and Prometheus and Psyche) though we are not told to what extent the titles relate to the content (or the other way round?). The first movement is roughly in sonata form with an extended accompanied cadenza. The second movement, mostly song-like in character though with a more animated central section, is scored for harp and strings. A paraphrase of a song of Praetorius is woven into the music. Soloist and full orchestra join again in the virtuosic final movement ending "with a wild rush to octave C sharps". This is a fine work, though a bit too long for its material, and in any case a superb showpiece for a much neglected instrument. It is a most welcome addition to the limited contemporary repertoire of bassoon concertos and well worth hearing.

Larry Bell, who has also composed a bassoon concerto The Sentimental Muse Op.45 for Kathryn Sleeper, is the soloist in this performance of his substantial Piano Concerto Op.33 completed in 1989. It is in three movements of which the titles (Lyrical and Majectic, Blues Theme with Variations and Dancelike and Driving) give a fair description of the music. It is to be noted, however, that the "blues theme" is an original tune. The Finale is a brilliant, dance-like movement full of energy and bouncing rhythms. Those of you who may already have heard some of Bellís works will know what to expect. As I already mentioned in earlier reviews, Bellís music is some sort of updated Americana breathing the same air as Coplandís or Ivesí music. It is colourful, often warmly tuneful and rhythmically alert, direct and communicative. A fine work though his Sacred Symphonies Op.23 (on VMM 3016) is a much finer work and probably the best introduction to Bellís endearing music.

Margaret Meierís The Dawning has an almost concertante part for celesta (representing "the innocence and promise of young life"). The slowly burgeoning life depicted in the slow introduction reaches a first climax (birth). There ensues a slow, haunting melody (actually "a 12-note row and its inversion") unfolds reaching a playful section followed by a short set of variations leading to a full restatement of the main theme as a powerfully assertive coda. A beautiful, attractive work that repays repeated hearings.

Australian-born Haydn Reederís Lark 2 for saxophone and orchestra is actually the third version of a song originally part of the song cycle Songs of Love and Terror for mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble. (Lark 1 is a setting for mezzo-soprano and orchestra whereas Lark 2 is a song-without-words for saxophone and orchestra.) The text of the original vocal setting is by the 12th Century French poet, Bernart de Ventadorn (some of this troubadourís poems have also been set by John Buller in his wonderful Proença once available on UNICORN). I do not know the vocal settings and, therefore, have no idea of how the saxophone setting relates (or does not) to the song. Lark 2, however, though in a slightly more advanced idiom than any of the other pieces here, is nevertheless a quite attractive piece of music in its own right. I would now welcome an opportunity to hear either the song cycle or Lark 1 some day.

An interesting instalment in VMMís ongoing series Music from Six Continents with two substantial, if somewhat uneven works and two shorter, attractive pieces, all in fine performances decently recorded.

Hubert Culot

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