Rorem For Cello
Ned Rorem (b. 1923)is best-known as an American composer of art song and as a writer of memoirs. But, as several budget-priced releases in Naxos's "American classics" series testify, Rorem's compositions extend far beyond the realm of song. A series of Naxos CDs offers listeners the opportunity to explore Rorem's symphonies, chamber music, and concertos in addition to a selection of songs performed by Carole Farley with the composer at the piano. A recent release of Rorem's music on Naxos includes two works in which the cello is preeminent: a suite for cello alone and Rorem's double concerto for violin and cello.
This CD features cellist Sharon Robinson, a member of the much-recorded
Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson trio together with her husband and partner in the trio, violinist Jamie Laredo. Both Robinson and Laredo have long been champions of Rorem's music, and it is exciting to have the opportunity to hear them perform on a budget CD. In the concerto, Michael Stern conducts the relatively newly-formed (2000) IRIS Orchestra, which is based in Germantown, Tennessee and regularly features the music of American composers.
Rorem's solo cello suite, "After Reading Shakespeare" dates from 1981, and Robinson's recording first appeared in 1982. This is a nine-movement suite based loosely upon Rorem's re-readings of Shakespeare and of Proust. It is rare to hear music for unaccompanied cello, and Rorem's suite immediately brings to mind Bach's incomparable set of six suites for cello alone. In some of the lengthier movements, particularly the first and final movements, Rorem's suite includes echoes of Bach's suites, as Rorem uses the cello contrapuntally to create the feeling of several voices and lines. The suite also includes movements of lyricism and passion in the companion pieces titled "Caliban" and "Portia" and in the Proust-inspired "Remembrance of things past." The finale, "Iago and Othello" is a work in two voices full of both learning and passion, as befits its title. This cello suite is an outstanding work.
Rorem's Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra was commissioned by the Indianapolis Symphony which first performed it in 1998. The work brings to mind Brahms's famous "Double", but in fact it has little in common with this predecessor. As is Rorem's violin concerto, this double concerto is more in the nature of a multi-movement suite than a concerto. It consists of eight mostly short movements with close integrated writing for the orchestra and the two soloists. The composition is tonal and clear throughout in a musical language that reminded me both of Debussy and of the American works of Aaron Copland.
The music seems to me to tell a story as it shows events in the lives of a married couple much in love. The centerpiece of the work is the lengthy seventh movement, titled "Conversation at Midnight" in which the cello and violin speak lovingly and intimately to each other at the beginning and the end with a long orchestral interlude in the middle. The soloists tend, on the whole, not to stand out in the remainder of the work, which shifts mercurially among many moods from the reflective to the brash and fanfarish. In his liner notes for this CD, Rorem describes the recording as a "perfect performance". Indeed both orchestra and the two soloists are engaged with the score and appear to be enjoying themselves.
I found the unaccompanied cello suite the better piece on this CD, but both it and the concerto will reward hearing. Listeners interested in American music have reason to be grateful to Naxos, and to an anonymous donor who has provided funding for this release, for continuing to make the music of Ned Rorem accessible to a wide audience.