- Audio CD
- Language: English, English, English
- Number of Discs: 1
- Format: Import
- Label: Naxos
- ASIN: B0012CJ772
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
Nicolas Flagello: Missa Sinfonica; Arnold Rosner: Symphony No. 5 Import
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This disc brings together the first recordings of two symphonic Masses, orchestral works inspired by and structured according to the Ordinary of the Roman Catholic Mass. Both composers, one Roman Catholic , the other Jewish , were in their late twenties
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Flagello--huh. Plump, cinematic neo-Romanticism containing a goofy second movement. I am not convinced of his work here with religious material--it just doesn't seem to fit. John Ford meets Jesus at a mass? Left me perplexed and uninvolved. Hi piano concerto is much better.
As a genre, "sacred symphony" might be defined as a purely instrumental suggestion of the stages of the Roman Catholic Mass, possibly but not necessarily drawing on music of the liturgical tradition, such as Ambrosian or Gregorian Chant. The form has a distant relation to the Eighteenth Century church sonata, so-called, and to works such as Haydn's "Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross" in its orchestral version. Often in Bruckner's symphonies, one senses that the notion of a "sacred symphony" is in play.
Thanks to the work of musicologist Walter Simmons, Flagello has finally (posthumously) begun to receive some of the attention and admiration that he deserved, but did not always receive, during his lifetime. In Simmons' landmark study - "Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers" (2005) - readers will learn that Flagello belonged to the school of serious American music that, in the mid-Twentieth Century, refused to assimilate to the modernist style stemming from the Second Viennese School, Stravinsky, and other attempts to break radically with the musical past. Flagello stuck to a recognizably tonal idiom rooted in Nineteenth-Century practice but unmistakably "au courant" in its rhythmic vivacity and wide emotional palette. At times, Flagello employed a chromatic harmony and dense polyphony that Simmons characterizes as "expressionistic."
Flagello's "Missa Sinfonica," in five movements, follows the usual order of the Catholic Mass; its movements are (I) Kyrie, (II) Gloria, (III) Credo, (IV) Sanctus et Benedictus, and (V) Agnus Dei. In it Flagello largely avoids his "expressionistic" side to create movements of lyrical solemnity appropriate to the atmosphere of the Eucharistic Service. Moments of a more outspoken and colorful spirit do occur, as in the Gloria and the Benediction, while the overall character remains somber. The Credo is the most "imitative" or "picturesque" movement. The opening woodwind solo presents priestly incantation translated into purely instrumental terms and seems to incorporate the rhythmic structure of the first phrase of the "Credo" of the Latin Mass: "Credo in unum Deum." Those familiar with the Flagello's flamboyant side, as expressed for example in the First Symphony or the Symphonic Concerto for four Saxophones and Orchestra, will be surprised at the fascinating quietness that Flagello can achieve.
Rosner's Symphony No. 5 is larger in scale than Flagello's "Missa Sinfonica," by forty minutes in performance to thirty-four. Rosner's is perhaps also the more variegated and outspoken of the two works. It is more immediately arresting to a listener in both its melodic content and orchestration, at one or two moments approaching something like flamboyance, but without violating the spirit of the genre. (Mozart, after all, wrote a C-Major "Missa Brevis" which is as extravert and colorful as one might wish.) In the 1970s Rosner worked in a personal idiom that he calls "Neo-Modalism." Cognoscenti of his marvelous string quartets (recorded on the Albany label) will know the style, which manages successfully to combine modern sonata-type structures on a large scale with the harmonic patterns of the Elizabethan motet and Italianate Renaissance music. This synthesis has a few precedents: in Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Tallis Fantasia," for example, and in Ottorino Respighi's "Church Windows." Rosner nevertheless achieves a personal and original and not an imitated formula.
The sequence of movements in Rosner's Symphony follows the Mass, as in the Flagello score: (I) Kyrie, (II) Gloria, (III) Credo, (IV) Sanctus et Benedictus, and (V) Agnus Dei. The center of gravity lies in the Credo, extravert in comparison with the similarly named middle movement of Flagello's score, which manages the extraordinary task of finding its climax on a modulating chord-sequence that thickens each passing vertical structure chromatically while still sounding like a vast extended plagal cadence in a major key. Rosner likes to dance as much as he likes to sing. The rhythms of the galliard, the pavane, and the bransle everywhere animate his lyrical motion.
John McLaughlin Williams takes robust command of the National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, who tackle the unfamiliar music with professional aplomb.
If you do like the Flagello, be sure to try his violin and piano concertos as well as his solo piano music.
Flagello's Missa Sinfonica (1957) is arranged so that the succeeding movements correspond to an opening allegro (a slow one, in this case, really more moderato), first scherzo, meditation, second scherzo and majestic finale. The feel of the first movement Kyrie is dark, pensive, maybe even slightly melancholy. The Gloria is nervous, skittish, and almost jazzy. The Credo is the work's centerpiece; I hear it as a slow, brooding, meditative, even pleading crisis of faith. It is followed by another scherzo (Sanctus et Benedictus) which could only have been written by a New Yorker. One hears the bustle of the city that seems, to me, to be describing almost frantic searching. The Finale is a cautious assertion of faith seeking reassurance in the intercession of the Lamb of God. I hear this music not so much as the composer's assurance of the value of faith as a questioning of it, with quiet but not necessarily final resolution in the affirmative.
Arnold Rosner is of Jewish background and one could legitimately ask why he has written a symphonic mass. He himself addresses this question in his fine booklet notes, pointing out that any composer in the Western tradition has absorbed a great deal of religious music and especially the form of such music, and that this provides an indispensable framework for much non-sacred music. He has composed his Fifth Symphony (subtitled 'Missa sine Cantoribus super Salve Regina' ['Mass without Singers on "Salve Regina"']) to correspond formally with the sung Ordinary Mass and using plainchant (and thus modal harmonies). The work was written at the height of the Vietnam War and was explicitly conceived as a peaceful anti-war work; it was even dedicated to the anti-war candidate for President, George McGovern. I will admit that I am not familiar enough with the 'Salve Regina' chant to be always able to pick it out in the symphony. although some of its appearances are obvious. But certainly one can hear the marvelous workings of its implied modal harmonies here, often being reminded of such works as Hindemith's 'Mathis der Maler' or Vaughan Williams's 'Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.' There are also sections that sound a good deal like Renaissance dance music. There is even a marvelous modal fugue in the Gloria. The Sanctus begins with the unaccompanied Salve Regina which then develops into a joyful dance with interspersed modal brass and wind harmonies. The Agnus Dei is the work's crowning glory beginning with a serenely angelic melody followed by noble and reassuring passages that ultimately convey an ineffable sense of peace and psychological resolution.
Both these symphonies have about them the sense that they are intensely personal statements, the one about faith and doubt, the other about war and peace. And both of them are exceedingly effective. The direction of conductor John McLaughlin Williams is sensitive, masterly and committed. His orchestra is the National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, one he has conducted and recorded with often, including a previous Flagello disc Nicolas Flagello: Piano Concerto No. 1; Dante's Farewell; Concerto Sinfonico and several containing music by the underrepresented American composer, George Frederick McKay McKay: Violin Concerto, 16th Century Hymn Tunes. Although not a world-class ensemble the Ukrainians play their hearts out in convincing interpretations of these works.