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Henry Fogel
Fanfare, November 2012

Nicolas Flagello’s Passion is a significant American choral work, from a seriously undervalued composer. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review

Joshua Rosenblum
Opera News, October 2012

The concept behind Nicolas Flagello’s Passion of Martin Luther King is a compelling one…

New York City-born Flagello comes off as a twentieth-century composer who refused to give up Romanticism; on the evidence here, at least, he composed in bold emotional strokes and primary colors. The opening “Hosanna Filio David” contains vivid splashes of Technicolor and reveals the composer’s sure dramatic hand, which proves to be omnipresent. Timpani rolls and ominous, slow-building orchestral crescendos make their intended impact. The text settings are vivid and coloristically shrewd: the martial “In the Struggle for Freedom” is particularly effective, and the choral climax in the fifth movement delivers action-packed glory. The “Jubilate deo” movement is a brilliant choral fugue…an unexpectedly tender setting of the phrase “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord” brings a lump to one’s throat, and the “Stabat Mater” movement is deeply poignant. The vocal writing is unfailingly lyrical…the piece is a refreshing respite from today’s postmodernism and irony.

Giving a magnificent rendition of the solo part is the composer’s younger brother, Ezio Flagell…Flagello’s forceful interpretation bursts with ruddy coloring and amazingly clear diction; he is ceaselessly formidable.

Also included is the masterful L’Infinito…which packs a wallop in its brief three minutes and has some of the intensity of Ernest Bloch. The disc closes with The Land…These are full of surprises, including attractive echoes of Respighi, Puccini, Richard Strauss and Ennio Morricone, wrapped up in Flagellois own brand of sophisticated expressiveness. © 2012 Opera News

Henry Fogel
Fanfare, September 2012

This is a significant and gorgeous release…

…my enthusiasm is such that this disc is likely to wind up on my 2012 Want List.

One very important fact: This is the original version of the Passion , with a different ending than the revision recorded on Koch International by James DePreist. I won’t go into the history of the change, which Simmons explores in the notes, but I will say without hesitation that I prefer this original version to the revision, and find it a deeply moving ending.

Nicolas Flagello often wrote music for his brother, and it is no surprise that the only solo voice called for in all three works is the bass. But what may surprise those who do not know his music from previous exposure is the high level of inspiration and beauty evident in these pieces. Flagello’s music is melodic, tonal, and deeply personal, particularly Passion . The performance of Passion is gorgeous—conducted with utter conviction and apparent skill, and sung with total involvement and ringing tone by Flagello and the chorus…this is a very satisfying reading in all ways. The recording is at a high level of quality for 1969, and still excellent by today’s standards.

In L’Infinito and The Land the performances are again exemplary, and the 1962 stereo sound is fine—natural, ungimmicky, realistically balanced…this composer was fortunate in having one of the Metropolitan Opera’s leading bassos as his brother, and having decided to compose much of his music with that specific voice in mind. The result is that these performances are far beyond what most composers could ever hope to hear in their lifetimes.

I hope I have conveyed my enthusiasm for this release. Anyone with an interest in exploring unfamiliar repertoire and an interest in tonal vocal music that stays in the memory long after one hears it should find this an extremely worthwhile purchase. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review

Phillip Scott
Fanfare, September 2012

This is a significant release for a number of reasons. The primary one is that it makes available a remarkable recording of one of Nicolas Flagello’s masterworks, the large choral and orchestral Passion of Martin Luther King, written in the wake of King’s assassination.

The 1969 performance shows the odd sign of unfamiliarity on the part of the Ambrosian Singers, who cope manfully even so, and if this is a criticism it is far outweighed by the conviction of Nicolas at the podium and Ezio in the solo passages. The latter’s bass-baritone voice is strong and evenly produced from top to bottom; do they make them like this anymore? His was the perfect voice to render excerpts from King’s oratory: a mixture of religious fervor, personal reflection, and civil-rights idealism.

The work’s title has a deliberate double meaning: Flagello writes a Passion, that is, settings from the Mass and the Bible in Latin, and interpolates the rhetorical passion of a great humanitarian. In this it resembles the War Requiem, but the effect is quite different. In Britten’s work, the choir and soloists are set in opposing contrast to each other: here the solos reflect and influence the choral passages to create an overall dramatic arc. Throughout, the composer’s sense of musical and dramatic timing remains absolutely flawless. I should also mention the beauty and sincerity of some of the extended orchestral passages, notably in the haunting “Stabat Mater.”

The accompanying works, dating from the 1950s, are from a 1962 Italian recording session and have appeared on CD before. Flagello sets Leopardi’s gloomy L’Infinito and six of Tennyson’s verses from The Land for bass soloist and orchestra. Again, Ezio proves the ideal interpreter, and the Florence musicians play with vivacity and evident enjoyment for Nicolas, clearly a fine conductor. Tennyson’s poems The Owl and The Snowdrop allow the composer to reveal his rarely seen playful side; the latter song also opens out lyrically in a most attractive way.

This is music to live with and love, in performances of color and commitment. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2012

Why this recording of the Passion of Martin Luther King has remained unissued for more than forty years is one of the bizarre chapters in recording history. It features the composer, Nicolas Flagello, conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Ambrosian Singers, both in uncommonly fine form. The composer’s distinguished bass-baritone brother, Ezio Flagello, is the soloist, and the whole package is wrapped up in outstanding sound from producer and engineer, John Boyden... The Passion sets to music words of the black equality activist, Martin Luther King, in a highly emotive way. Richly melodic, and with its roots in the late Romantic era, and more than a hint of Hollywood in the orchestration, it’s nine sections end with the famous words, I have a Dream. Ezio’s voice is magnificent, the setting in declamatory tones well suited to the sheer power of projection. It came at a point when Nicolas already had a large portfolio of music, having studied composition with Vittorio Giannani, an American of Italian descent. As a conductor he became a pupil of Dmitri Mitropoulos, his life cut short at the age of sixty-six. The two remaining works, played by I Musici di Firenze, also had Ezio in mind, The Land using six pastoral texts by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, ranging from The Eagle to the Flower in the Cranny, the music highly descriptive of the texts, and instantly enjoyable. Benjamin Britten’s settings of English folk songs come to mind as a parallel. This previously issued material dates from Rome in 1962 with Ezio’s voice well captured. This was the world premiere performance of the Passion and is the only one of the original score preserved on disc. It is going to be one of my discs of the year. © David’s Review Corner

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