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Fanfare, March 2004

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Christoph Schluren
Fono Forum

"And so it was that Jose Serebrier, one of the most eminent conductors of our times, was able to compose this original lyric fantasy, a vital elegant masterwork in the span of a week, earlier this year. This third symphony is a shimmering prism of tone, romantic-impressionistic and spontaneously improvisatorial, as well as clearly formed and with a sure-hand for reaching great heights of ecstasy.

Stylistically, the distance between his first work (the hallucinatory Elegy of a 14-year-old prodigy) and the third symphony is outstanding and full of ripe subtleties. While this symphony is scored for string orchestra, some of the other works on this CD are for instruments such as bassoon, flute, double bass and choir. In between, there is a fantastically refined 2-movement concert work for the primitive accordion, written in the 60's, with a refined musical simplicity.

Four compositions are recorded here for the first time. Among them the most important is the third symphony, with its characteristic dualistic well-organized opening movement, with a few meaningful thoughts looking back, while the voicing wanders and follows its monody. The dance-like third movement has strong Latin American colors, and in the finale it features a soprano vocalise which magically brings the listener into a mysterious ending. Throughout this recording there is a great star quality. 5 stars out of 5"

Hans-Christian v. Dadelsen
Klassik heute

"The extraordinary conductor-composer Jose Serebrier had already made his debut as conductor at the age of 11, and at 14 composed his Elegy, a wonderfully musical and technically perfect work, so much so, that Leopold Stokowski permiered it at Carnegie Hall. Serebrier's music, above all, is weighed down a little bit by the overwhelming genius of his master. It speaks in a free stylistic language, above all in a vital, pulsating classicism, especially in the most important movement of the third symphony. However, it is in this backward-looking stylistic movement, that this sympathetic, fresh, un-presumptuous music that always avoids cliches, finds its original voice. It is especially apparent in his accordion concerto (Passacaglia and Perpetuum Mobile). His work for contrabass, "George and Muriel" (dedicated to George Marek, then President of RCA, and his wife Muriel), remains very moving and original at the highest level. The CD booklet, written by the composer himself, is witty and highly informative."


"Jose Serebrier has been such a fine conductor for some four-plus decades to date, it bewilders that he is not music director of one of American's major orchestras. Not only a conductor of rare expertise and comprehensive repertoire-on this occasion making the Toulouse National Chamber Orchestra sound like the Boston Symphony Chamber Players-he is a composer of fastidious taste in the best of his music I've heard. Quicker than the Road Runner, too. Consider the featured Third Symphony (Symphonie mystique) for strings and wordless soprano, employed in the last of four movements for disembodied coloristic rather than solo effect. He wrote it in a week, when (1) it was feared the disc might be too short, and (2) an accordionist soloist had to cancel because of ill health. The latter's pupil, Yi Yao, substituted, and according to Serebrier "came through giving a virtuoso performance of the accordion concerto" a.k.a. Passacaglia and Perpetuum Mobile, composed in 1966 on commission but given its first recording here. So are the new symphony, Variations on a Theme of Childhood (1963, which can be played on either a trombone or bassoon, the latter here), and Elegy for Strings, Serebrier's first published work composed in 1952 at the age of 14.

Momento psicologico followed five years later when he had moved to the US to study with Aaron Copland, who suggested the title for string music with a "distant trumpet" that plays a single note throughout at various volume-levels. Fantasia was originally for string quartet in 1960-introduced at the Inter-American Music Festival in 1961 and still memorable more than 40 years later, its impact if not the notes themselves. His publisher suggested a string orchestra version with the addition of double basses, while the title was "a kind of homage to Stokowski /Disney's wonderful film." Eighteen months later he became the conductor's protegewith the American Symphony Orchestra. Two remaining short pieces were inspired by friends: George and Muriel (Marek), RCA Red Seal's former repertory chief and his wife on their 60th wedding anniversary in 1987; Dorothy and Carmine in 1991 to celebrate the wedding of his Miami (FL) friends, the Vlachos. In the latter, a flute player sitting in the audience begins to play with the string orchestra onstage, joining the ensemble before wandering off. In George and Muriel, a double-bass soloist plays with double-bass choir and wordless offstage chorus.

If this whets your appetite, good! Except for the 25-minute symphony and 11-minute Fantasia, these works are short but never short-measure. Each is the consummation of a musical function, and their collective effect is absorbing. Serebrier is a tonal composer whose themes are distinctive if not, in the conventional Romantic sense, "melodic." But his mastery of orchestral effect is impeccable, and so are these performances . Phil Rowlands is the triple-threat sound engineer, producer and editor-a prize any label would be proud to own.

Did I mention, in addition to Serebrier's talents as a composer-conductor, that he writes the best program notes of any composer-conductor in the business-concise, clear-headed, almost novelistic in their organization? All of which is to say that Naxos has another winner, leaving me the single problem of what to jettison in restricted space so I can keep this release."

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