Paul REALE (b. 1943)
American Elegy (2008) [4:42]
Hextet (2017) [13:46]
Caldera with Ice Cave (Piano Concerto No. 3) (2002/12) [22:47]
Dancer’s Dream (2018) [11:56]
Concerto Grosso (2015) [16:17]
American Elegy with Chimes (2008) [4:46]
Christopher Guzman (piano)
Yordan Tenev (violin), Daniel Moore (viola), Sonya Nanos (cello)
Lynn Philharmonia/Guillermo Figueroa, Jon Robertson
rec. 2019, World Performing Arts Center, Lynn University, Boca Raton, USA
MSR CLASSICS MS1703 [73:18]
My colleague Jonathan Woolf has reviewed a number of other recent releases by American composer Paul Reale on the MSR label (review ~ review). They piqued my interest somewhat, and when this disc of music for string orchestra remained unchosen on the review list, I thought I would take a chance.
I think I was hoping that Reale’s music would prove as enjoyable as that of his fellow American Barbara Harbach, whose music MSR Classics has championed for more than a decade. Unfortunately, that hasn’t proven to be the case. Looking back at Jonathan’s reviews, I now
see references to Britten and Stravinsky, and they would have been enough for me to steer clear. They should be your primary indicators – if you like those composers as well as Prokofiev, you will like this music. It is dynamic and always on the move, but for the most part, cold, spiky and unengaging for this reviewer. Jonathan mentioned Reale’s use of humour, as does the composer himself in his notes in the booklet. I’m sure it’s just me, but it eludes me.
I know I’m giving the impression that I didn’t like this at all, but I can see the quality in the writing, and each piece had elements that were appealing. My favourite was Dancer’s Dream which had a greater degree of warmth than the others. The notes reference Ravel’s La Valse, which I can see, and Mahler, which I can’t. The work that opens and closes the disc – American Elegy – Reale describes as a homage to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. I preferred the version for strings only, finding the chimes something of a distraction. Hextet was written for Halloween, and it is intended as a cinematic experience of horror movies, with movement titles like Zombies and Walpurgisnacht. It is successful in achieving that, but not in engaging this listener. The two concertante works have their moments, but for me were the least successful.
The orchestra is based at the Florida university from which it takes its name, and as far as I can tell from the photographs on its webpage, is comprised of students. Don’t let that deter you - they play very well, and the engineers have recorded them very naturally. The recordings are described as “world premieres”, but in this global era, is that really a meaningful term?
Len Mullenger, MWI’s founder, recently asked the reviewing team to request some releases that would be outside their normal “comfort zone”. This fits into that category for me, but I’m afraid it hasn’t succeeded in expanding that zone.