Bernard Rands: Canti del Sole, Music for Shoko, Concerto for Piano & Orchestra (Premiere Recordings)

The international reputation of Bernard Rands as one of the leading composers of his generation rests on over a hundred well-crafted scores of notable formal cohesion, dramatic intensity and lyrical beauty.

The Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (2013) was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in celebration of Rands’s eightieth birthday year and as implied by its title, the piece is for piano and orchestra rather than a piano concerto. Hence, the solo part is primus inter pares and is not required to play the conventional role of a protagonist striving heroically for supremacy over the masses.

Canti del Sole, for tenor and orchestra (1983) describes a day’s progression from dawn to dusk through a continuous setting of fourteen poems about the sun. The poems are arranged into two groups of seven.

Music for Shoko: Aubade is an atmospheric mini-tone poem for English horn and string quartet (2017). It is dedicated to Bernard Rands’s friend Shoko Suzuki in appreciation of their many years of friendship and her devotion to the composer’s music. The piece is a transcription of the central ‘Aubade’ movement from the Concerto for English Horn and Orchestra, which was written for the soloist Robert Walters. The solo part of the chamber piece is identical to that of the concerto movement, while the orchestral music is accommodated, with adjustments, by the string quartet. [Paul Conway]

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The opening piece on this disc, the Concerto for Piano and orchestra, commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra for the composer’s eightieth birthday and for the fine American pianist Jonathan Biss. This is a work, which really connects with me and, having played it once, I had to jump in the car for a half hour journey to town and played it over again. What especially attracts me is the delicate nature of much of the material, its orchestration and its lyrical piano writing, which, whilst virtuoso in many sections, places its emphasis on a sort of democracy between piano and orchestra, as Paul Conway so well describes in his, as usual, excellent booklet notes. The three movements begin with ‘Fantasia: Noble’ and a unison idea on sustained strings, which informs much of the following material and mood. The middle movement, ‘Slow, quiet, vague and mysterious’, is the longest but, despite the possible drawbacks in its description, it holds the attention throughout. The finale, ‘Delicate and playful’, sums up the work with its trills and ornaments and scurrying scale passages. The performance is exemplary.

In many ways, the other large-scale work on the CD, ‘Canti del Sole’, is a striking and wonderful work. It is a setting for tenor and orchestra of fourteen poems by eleven poets in four languages of poems featuring the sun. These poets are from the 12th Century right up to Eugenio Montale (d.1981) The first seven take us swiftly and almost ecstatically from the tam-tam opening of first light until noon the second seven through a more relaxed, if world-weary, afternoon to sunset, ending with Quasimodo’s ‘And suddenly its evening’ a poem also set, magically by Elisabeth Lutyens in 1966. The orchestral writing is superb, sometimes impressionistic and always colourful, always gripping. Stephen Chaundy is magnificent, clear, firm with excellent intonation and diction, the sort of singer any composer would want. So, though I have a few caveats, it’s a work worth getting to know.

In between these two pieces is the beautiful Music for Shoko: Aubade, scored for English horn (cor anglais) and string quartet and premiered just a few days after this recording for Lyrita by this same wonderful group. It’s an arrangement of a movement from Rands’ Concerto for English Horn and Orchestra, composed in 2015. For those us who are sometimes up ‘betimes’, this music will probably conjure up the delicate beauty of dawn. It begins and ends quietly and wistfully but has a more troubled middle section. It’s an impeccable miniature.

I really enjoyed this disc and I’m going to end by stating something which our various magazines can hardly bring themselves to admit, namely that Bernard Rands’ reputation, obviously much appreciated across the pond, should be held in equally high regard in the country of his birth.Musicweb-International

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