[A re-post in remembrance of Ned Rorem, 1923-2022] This is a very easy call: marvelous music, exceptional performances, top-notch engineering–it all adds up to the strongest possible recommendation. Pilgrims is a lovely, lyrical work for string orchestra that makes an attractive disc-opener, but the two concertos are the standout items. Both are written as suites of brief movements, avoiding traditional forms. They actually resemble song-cycles more than anything else, and given Rorem’s acknowledged mastery of that medium, not to mention the relationship between the concerto idea and vocal music generally, it’s obvious that he is in his element.
The Flute Concerto is a world premiere. It was composed in 2002 for Jeffrey Khaner, and it’s an exceptionally fine piece, beautiful to listen to and (evidently) quite grateful to play. We seem to be enjoying a bonanza of fine modern flute concertos, what with this work and the numerous pieces written for Sharon Bezaly as well. At about 30 minutes, it’s a substantial piece, and Rorem’s orchestration is beautifully calculated to give the soloist maximum opporunity for display, without the orchestra ever sounding excessively inhibited. Best of all, the thematic material really is memorable.
The same virtues characterize the Violin Concerto (1985), which was recorded previously by Bernstein and Gidon Kremer. Frankly, Philippe Quint plays better, with more attractive tone, and Serebrier offers a very fine account of the accompaniment. Rorem’s orchestral music doesn’t get the same amount of attention as his songs, but like the French music that he so admires, it allies expressive directness to a keen sense of instrumental color and superior craftsmanship. As a supplement to Serebrier’s superb recording of the composer’s three symphonies for Naxos, this disc is a must for collectors. [5/19/2006]