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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Ned Rorem’s Concerto for Violin and Cello has a sobriquet for each of its attractively diverse movements. After the introductory, slightly pungent ‘Morning’, ‘Looking’ centres on the solo violin alternating with the brass. ‘Conversation at Midnight’, the centerpiece, frames a concertante dialogue plus a string chorale with a livelier central section, and the finale takes off brilliantly and briefly into ‘Flight’. The nine sections of After Reading Shakespeare for solo cello are indeed Shakespearean, all named after famous characters in the Bard’s plays. Lear is perhaps the most important, as he gets two sections, while Iago and Othello have to share, if not in the most friendly fashion. It’s all very ingenious and very well played, but not as memorable as the concerto.

Susan Pierotti
Stringendo, December 2007

After a long and close collaboration with Joachim and Hausmann, Brahms was inspired to write his concerto for violin and cello. Similarly, rorem’s association with Laredo and Robinson has borne fruit in the same musical genre. Rorem’s style shows elements of French influences and polytonality and he handles the orchestration with a fine touch. The emotional heart is the 14-minute slow movement, which reaches the climax in huge expansive melodic lines. Laredo and Robinson work as a well-knit team, each one’s sound growing out of the other’s, and their ensemble playing and rubato in the cadenza are astonishing. The other item on this CD is a solo cello piece written especially for Robinson. She is an exuberant and expressive player with a solid technique and a full-bodied tone. Rorem himself says, “…the interpretation of the piece is ideal…What composer could ask for more?”

Eric J Bruskin
Fanfare, September 2007

Well, the music on this disc puts Rorem far above any such cultural typecasting. If anything, the most stylistically allusive music here are two waltz passages in the Double Concerto, one of them channeling Richard Strauss and the other Richard Rodgers. They come and go in a flash, but their sparkle leaves an afterglow. …The Double Concerto was written in 1998 for its performers here, both longtime associates of the composer. Its eight movements hang together convincingly as a large-scale work, in part because the movements group by tempo. …Some of the tuttis carry the sonic heft of the most ardent midcentury American symphonists when those composers open out into chorale-like writing, but Rorem’s harmonies are thicker, sometimes almost like Messiaen. Many beautiful passages burst forth suddenly out of more plain-spun material, which is why this music so richly repays careful and repeated listening. Soloists Laredo and Robinson clearly inhabit the work, and vice versa; and the IRIS Orchestra makes lovely sounds in all but the most frenetic string passages. The sonic image is clear, allowing everything in the score to be heard clearly. © 2007 Fanfare Read complete review

D Moore
American Record Guide, June 2007

Ned Rorem (b. 1923) is one of America's most consistently interesting composers. Perhaps best known for his vocal works, he has written for nearly every instrument as well. This is the latest in Naxos's considerable collection of Rorem readings; it combines past and present recordings by the Laredo-Robinson duo. The Double Concerto for violin, cello, and orchestra was written in 1998 for them, and this recording was made in 2004. As often occurs in Rorem's works, the movements (there are eight of them) tell a story of sorts; the longest part is called 'Conversation at Midnight'. What that is about is anyone's guess, but it makes up nearly half of the concerto. It is a lovely, rather improvised-sounding, but consistently fascinating work where the elements serve to develop each other as they go along.

After Reading Shakespeare was written in 1981 for Robinson, and this recording is a rerelease of the recording she made for Grenadilla in 1982. It is rather closely miked. Luckily, Robinson is a smoothly accurate player and can support this kind of microscopic representation with sufficient aplomb to make it enjoyable. This nine-movement suite takes us from Midsummer-Night's Dream to Othello in Rorem's individual way. What with photographs of the performers with the composer in an at-home style, this is a friendly and highly listenable record.

D Moore
American Record Guide, June 2007

Rorem wrote the Double Concerto in 1998 for long-time friends Jamie Laredo and Sharon Robinson, together with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. The same soloists, but with the IRIS Orchestra under Michael Stern, appear on this recording…both soloists sing, soar and clash swords against a superbly scored orchestral backdrop, conducted with precision and verve by Stern. Rorem’s solo cello suite After Reading Shakespeare provides an intriguing postlude. “I realized that here was a perfect performance”, said Rorem of this recording of the Double Concerto. It’s hard to argue.

Peter Dickinson
Gramophone, April 2007

Perfect performances? Who's to argue with the composer in this lovely music?

Roremhas known these soloists for many years. He tells us in the CD booklet that these are perfect performances and it's easy to accept his judgement. The Double Concerto seems to be full of chorales; the first section, "Morning", is in a harmonic idiom close to Messiaen. The Mazurka never feels Polish and breaks out into a hedonistic waltz; "Looking" alternates between the solo violin and the brass group; and "Conversation at Midnight", lasting nearly 15 minutes, is by far the longest movement. It is a series of luxuriant exchanges between the soloists and what starts as a kind of D major hymn in the strings, and it has its own central section with faster music. The last movement, "Flight", blows everything away in just over a minute. All beautifully played.

Twenty minutes of solo cello music is not always the most inviting prospect, but played with this kind of panache there's plenty to enjoy. It was an original idea to name the nine movements after characters in Shakespeare's plays, but surprising that the titles were added either after or during composition - so they aren't portraits. Lear gets two movements - the first more agonised, the second tranquil, perhaps reflecting his eventual reconciliation. Caliban is treated far more charmingly than he deserves. Finally there's some conflict, as might be expected, when Iago shares a movement with Othello, but it evaporates into an ascending glissando. If some of this seems a little bland, don't despair - just look out for Rorem's memoir, Facing the Night: A Diary 1999-2005 (Shoemaker & Hoard: 2006).

Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, March 2007

Not many have been as gifted with both words and notes as Ned Rorem is. His autobiographical writings, such as The Paris Diary (1966), The New York Diary (1967), An Absolute Gift (1974) and Knowing When to Stop (1994), would have gained him a considerable fame even if his music had been a good deal less accomplished than it is; and, of course, the fame of the music itself is quite independent of Rorem’s gifts as a writer. That he has the rare kind of mind and creativity which function equally well in words and music perhaps lies behind his particular brilliance as a composer of songs – he composes settings with a musician’s skill, but he also composes them with a writer’s understanding of how words work. This present CD makes one wonder, contrariwise, whether when it comes to his instrumental music Rorem’s facility with words might not sometimes be a distraction.

The two soloists on this CD – the husband and wife team of violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson – have apparently been friends of Rorem’s for some twenty five years. The solo cello suite was written specifically for Robinson in 1980 and premiered at Alice Tully Hall in New York on 15 March 1981; in 1985 Rorem wrote his Violin Concerto “at Jaime’s behest”, to use Rorem’s own words. In 1998 a commission from the Indianapolis Symphony provided an opportunity for the composition of the Double Concerto for Laredo and Robinson.

Rorem’s booklet note on the Double Concerto contains the following rather odd statement: “Music being the least representational of the arts (it does not depict other than itself), the overall title is abstract: Double Concerto. Nevertheless, just to get the juices flowing, I did impose “concrete” titles onto the eight movements, which require 35 minutes to unfold. These titles connote whatever the listener chooses”. (They are, for the sake of reference: Morning - Adam and Eve – Mazurka - Staying on Alone - Their Accord – Looking - Conversation at Midnight - Flight). I find this hard to unravel. Particularly the suggestion, on the one hand, that the titles were “imposed” on the movements – which surely suggests that the music existed before titles were “imposed” on it? And, on the other hand, the suggestion that the titles were invented so that the composer might “get the juices flowing” – which surely suggests that the words existed before the music? In any case, we are told that the titles should “connote whatever the listener chooses” – which makes them meaningless and surely makes their presence pointless. Save that they don’t seem to be quite meaningless – Rorem goes on to declare “I will state only that in Adam and Eve the two soloists are literally born on stage: they emerge from the womb of the orchestra” (which is, incidentally, a pretty strange use of the word ‘literally!). In the case of After Reading Shakespeare Rorem’s notes contain some similarly distracting statements. In this work seven of the nine movements carry the name of characters – Lear (twice), Katharine, Titania and Oberon, Caliban, Portia, Iago and Othello – and two are given  titles in the form of quotations from Shakespeare’s Sonnets “Why hear’st thou music sadly?” (Sonnet 8) and “Remembrance of things past” (Sonnet 30).

Can the listener assume that there is a programmatic significance to these titles? Apparently not, according to Rorem: “The individual titles were not fixed notions around which I framed the music; they emerged, as titles for non-vocal pieces so often do, during the composition. Yes, I was rereading Shakespeare that July … Yet the experience did not so much inspire the music itself as provide a cohesive program upon which the music might be formalized, and thus intellectually grasped by the listener. Indeed, some of the titles were added after the fact, as when parents christen their children”. This is a bit easier to understand as a description of the process of creation, but it still leaves one suspicious that these titles, apparently intended to make it easier for the listener to “grasp” the music actually get in the way. Certainly my own experience with After Reading Shakespeare (and, indeed, with the Double Concerto) was that listening with the titles to hand trapped me into a finally rather unrewarding attempt to invent connections between the sounds I was hearing and the titles in my hand. Once I gave up that exercise and concentrated on the sounds themselves, the whole experience was a good deal more rewarding. Both of these pieces are good, interesting pieces of music; they are not programmatic music and the half-suggestion which Rorem makes that we might treat them as such does them a disservice.

The Double Concerto is scored for relatively modest forces – eight winds, four brass and strings. The absence of percussion prompts a delightfully wry observation from the conductor: “In growing older I have come to feel that percussion is, at best, mere decoration, at worst, immoral, like too many earrings or too many exclamation points!!”). Too much ‘exclamation’, being over-demonstrative isn’t something that Rorem’s music here goes in for. It operates more subtly and prefers understatement as its dominant idiom. A gentle, reflective opening and a (relatively) vertiginous conclusion frame six movements which vary in length from less than two minutes to more than fourteen. In the longest movement (‘Conversation at Midnight’) the dialogue of the two solo instruments is heard at its most interesting, the tonal interplay quite delightful. In a brief but busy movement (‘Mazurka’), both soloists are given some attractively lilting music; ‘Staying on Alone’ is a beautiful song for cello. Throughout both soloists play with utter conviction and gentle certainty of intention and execution, and Stern is a wholly sympathetic accompanist. If you insist on all your contemporary music being challenging, if you demand that contemporary music push back boundaries and extend instrumental techniques and resources, then you will presumably know better than to turn to Rorem’s work to satisfy your tastes. If, on the other hand, you can be content, at least now and then, with essentially tonal writing in which the performers use traditional instrumental techniques in the service of music of unembarrassed lyrical beauty, then you will surely enjoy this Double Concerto.

Rorem’s suite for solo cello is another attractive work, a little more searching, perhaps, in its exploitation of the instrument’s technical resources, though the idiom remains largely traditional. There are movements of powerful drama, with a sense of barely suppressed aggression or intense emotional pain; there are movements characterised by a sense of enduring melancholy and others that at least approach the playful. Sharon Robinson is an authoritative soloist and I intend no criticism of her if I suggest that the work is so rich in possibilities that I would like to hear alternative readings of it alongside hers.

I enjoyed the balance on this CD of the relative opulence of an orchestral work alongside a work for unaccompanied solo cello. Both are rewarding works, both get high quality performances on this well-recorded CD.

William Yeoman
Limelight, March 2007

Rorem wrote the Double Concerto in 1998 for long-time friends Jamie Laredo and Sharon Robinson, together with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. The same soloists, but with the IRIS Orchestra under Michael Stern, appear on this recording…both soloists sing, soar and clash swords against a superbly scored orchestral backdrop, conducted with precision and verve by Stern. Rorem’s solo cello suite After Reading Shakespeare provides an intriguing postlude. “I realized that here was a perfect performance”, said Rorem of this recording of the Double Concerto. It’s hard to argue.

Ted Libbey
The Absolute Sound, March 2007


Music by Ned Rorem fills the third disc in this Naxos three-bagger, and is performed here by the soloists for whom it was written. Jaime Laredo, a major American violinist with few peers when it comes to matters of tone and expressiveness, joins cellist Sharon Robinson, his partner in marriage as well as music, for the main work on the disc, Rorem's eight-movement Double Concerto. The coupling is a reissue of Robinson's 1982 Grenadilla recording of After Reading Shakespeare, a nine-movement suite for unaccompanied cello. Rorem tends to structure his instrumental pieces as though they were song cycles - stringing short movements together like a series of character studies. That's the case with each of these works, and in both cases, it works. The Double Concerto is a 30-minute love duet for violin and cello - or more accurately, for Laredo and Robinson - climaxing in the 14 1/2 minute long penultimate movement, "Conversation at Midnight." The whole work is beautifully realized, and Michael Stern and the IRIS Orchestra admirably contribute. The recording is close-up and clean, with solo instruments vividly present. Robinson's gifts are further revealed in After Reading Shakespeare, which she plays with authority and her typically energetic address. This recording is close and hot, typical of the miking of the day, but captures enough reflections to keep things from sounding too dry. The imaging is rock-solid and there's plenty of detail to savor, including the way the low strings, left to vibrate, ring for a very long time.

David Hurwitz, February 2007

Ned Rorem describes this performance of his Double Concerto for Violin and Cello as "perfect", so it would be presumptuous to challenge his opinion of it technically. Certainly the playing of Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson is excellent, as is that of the IRIS Orchestra under Michael Stern. Like some of Rorem's other concertante works, this takes the form of a series of short movements, eight in all, save that one of them (Conversation at Midnight) isn't so short, lasting for nearly a quarter of an hour, or about half the concerto's total time. The two soloists offer admirably focused playing here, with a real feeling of dialog both between themselves and with the orchestra. The scoring is Spartan--strings, eight woodwinds, and four brass--but there's no lack of color or incident. In short, this is a lovely addition to the string concerto repertoire, and a terrific piece for chamber orchestras to consider programming.

What keeps this disc from getting the highest rating is an admittedly personal issue, one that you may not share. After Reading Shakespeare, a suite for solo cello, was also written for Sharon Robinson, and it is very sympathetically performed (listen, for example, to how vividly she characterizes "Titania and Oberon"). Nevertheless, the pairing of an orchestral piece with this most chamber-like of chamber compositions strikes me as unconvincing, coming as it does after the concerto. In his notes Rorem emphasizes the fact that the movement titles of this piece should not be taken literally, the music having preceded some of them. If so, then why use them at all? And why suggest as opening and closing movements such weighty subjects as "Lear" and "Othello and Iago"? They really beg the question of whether or not Rorem's inspiration is up to Shakespeare's, and we don't want to go there, do we? There are times when composers might do better to resist the temptation to offer verbal clues, even if they are perfectly valid ones. Still and all, the music and performances themselves are self-recommending to the composer's many admirers, and on that basis I can recommend this fine new release without further qualification.

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