This latest CD premier on Eloquence caught my eye because it is conducted by Antal Dorati. And the program is most unusual. I don't usually seek out American choral/orchestral music, but I was enticed by the inclusion of William Schuman's New England Triptych. And seeing it is conducted by Dorati - I snatched this up right away.
And Dorati does not disappoint. While I do not pretend to be an expert on the music of William Schuman, I am very familiar with this piece, arguably his most popular, and have several recordings of it. I expected Dorati to put all other recordings of it to rest, and he does just that. Here is the precision of orchestral playing he is known for. And with it, a musical involvement and sheer excitement that elude many of today's conductors, who seem so willing to settle for a lazy, homogenous sound from their orchestras, which often lack articulation, muscle and individuality. Oh how I miss conductors like Dorati, and Solti, and others. For here is a prime example of orchestral playing which draws in the listener from beginning to end, which is so rarely heard on modern recordings.
While I was not all that surprised to hear this level of excellence in the Schuman, the real surprise is Robert Russell Bennett's The Fun and Faith of William Billings, American. Those familiar with Bennett's choral/orchestral arrangements (his 4 Christmas suites recorded by the Robert Shaw Chorale come immediately to mind) will be thrilled to hear much of the same grandeur here. The colorful orchestrations are grand and richly Romantic (scored for a full symphony orchestra recalling his A Symphonic Portrait from Gershwin's Porgy & Bess), and the choral singing is energetically full-throated and boisterous. While these songs are not as profound as, say, Gershwin's opera, Bennett's arrangements of them elevate them to a high level of inspiration. It's all great fun, very engaging and imaginatively colorful. The 8 sections proceed without pause, beginning with a wonderful (original) orchestral introduction by Bennett himself.
Next on the disc comes 3 of Billings's original settings, on which Schuman bases his New England Triptych. Topping it all off is Decca's finest analog sound, recorded in 1976, superbly (re)mastered by Eloquence.
This is a glorious disc to round off 2016 - excellent orchestral playing, superb recorded sound and peerless direction from Dorati. Even if you don't think you enjoy Americana choral music, I highly recommend this wonderful recording, as the Bennett provides much enjoyment. And the Schuman comes to life like never before, which alone justifies the price of this disc.