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Colin Clarke
Fanfare, January 2012

The Jamestown Concerto (2006) begins with a beautiful solo cello segment that sits halfway between solo cadenza and folkish musing, described as a “cello overture” in Douglas Bruce’s notes. …it is a poignant work that integrates Perry’s trademark filmic qualities into a concert framework. Yehuda Hanani is a most eloquent soloist. I find the work’s almost childlike sense of wonder and its clear impression of ongoing narrative, beautifully scored, rather compelling. The playful “Pocahontas in London” fourth movement is enchanting; the fifth bustles while faithfully evoking time and place. Skillful, eminently musical, and poignant pretty much sum up this piece.

…Schuman’s A Song of Orpheus [is]…superbly atmospheric music, yet at the same time sophisticated, especially in harmonic terms. Finally, Virgil Thomson’s Cello Concerto, a remarkably strong and powerful work, is given a proud and muscular account here by Hanani…

The placing of Perry here is important. He justly takes his place with two giants of American music. © 2012 Fanfare

To read the complete review, please visit Fanfare online.

Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, June 2009

Yehuda Hanani proves a compelling cello soloist in works for cello and orchestra by Virgil Thomson (Concerto), William Schuman (A Song of Orpheus) and William Perry (Jamestown Concerto). Perry is an experienced film composer, and his concerto sounds like an average movie score. Schuman’s lovely piece is based on his song, Orpheus and his Lute, (which occurs in Shakespeare’s “Henry VIII”). Thomson’s concerto, played here in its original orchestration, is one of the most lyrical cello concertos as well as one of the most taxing, because the soloist is playing almost all the time. William Eddins leads the RTÉ National Symphony of Ireland in acute accompaniments.

Stuart M. Paine, May 2009

I bought this for the “Jamestown Concerto” of William Perry and on that score it doesn’t disappoint. Mr. Perry is a veteran composer of works for the stage, such as LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI, and for film. He was musical director for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York where on piano he accompanied screenings of silent films. Some of his silent film music was heard on the 1971 and 1975 television series THE SILENT YEARS, hosted by Orson Welles. Perry’s music is tuneful, Romantic, folksy and agreeably harmonized, unpretentious and engaging. I have yet to hear a single work of his which I do not find immensely appealing. It is always comfortably tonal and joyous. In this world premiere recording of the concerto, cello soloist Yehuda Hanani, who also gave the premiere performance in 2007, obviously enjoys himself and does a stellar job. The work is in five movements of roughly equal length and clocks in at 24:41. It is not a stretch to compare the piece to Kern or even in spots to Delius.

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, January 2009

These three works, tied by their American heritage and syntax, though not entirely by subject matter—the Schuman is, after all, based on verses by Shakespeare—are given intelligent, sensitive, highly musical performances by renowned cellist Yehuda Hanani, conductor Eddins, and the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland…William Perry’s concerto is the newest, written in 2006 and premiered in January 2007 by Hanani with the Musica Nova Orchestra in Scottsdale, Arizona…There are some splendid moments in all five movements, depicting the embarkation of the Virginia Company from London in 1606, settlements along the James River (including the introduction of Pocahontas), harsh winters of the colony, Pocahontas in London, and Jamestown 400 years later on…

A Song of Orpheus by Schuman…the music is very close in concept to Berlioz’s longer and more familiar Harold in Italy, employing long stretches where the orchestra takes the lead and the cello amiably adds its commentary. Schuman wanted Shakespeare’s poem to be either printed in the concert program or recited from the stage. Of course, the brief text is included in the liner notes, but Naxos felt a need to hire actress Jane Alexander to recite the poem anyway. It’s a nice touch but, to me, an unnecessary extravagance.

I found Thomson’s Concerto (sometimes subtitled “Rider on the Plains”) to be perhaps the crown jewel of this collection. Quite in contrast to both the populist (but not popular) style of his film scores, which I feel are the finest ever written by an American, or the rhythmically dense, polyphonic style of his operas, the concerto strode a peculiar middle ground. Charming if not-quite-catchy melodies based on hymns, circle game tunes, and even a snippet from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 6 were seamlessly woven into a rich tapestry. The cello definitely takes center stage here, with some of the most extraordinary and complex music Thomson ever wrote. At one point he even sends it flying up into the violin range, much like Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise for cello but for a much longer period of time. Hanani, great virtuoso that he is, handles this with astounding aplomb if not quite the firm control of pitch that Emanuel Feuermann displayed in his Victor recording of the Chopin piece. But how many cellists are Feuermann? Answer: one. Feuermann! (It may also be of interest to note that, in this Concerto, Hanani is playing the same instrument that Paul Olefsky, principal cellist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, used in the 1950 premiere. Emmanuel Feldman also does a splendid job with this Concerto on the Albany label, but the more interesting pairing of the Schuman—not available elsewhere—makes this, for me, a more arresting disc.

This is certainly a splendid release, and should by no means be passed up…

Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, December 2008

This is most welcome; three concerted works for cello and orchestra by Americans never heard outside the USA. We haven’t had much chance to hear Perry’s work because it is brand new and was premièred only four months before this recording was made…In five movements, each introduced by the soloist, the music, which was commissioned to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first permanent colony at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, commemorates certain events and places, but let’s not worry about that now. It’s the music which matters and this is a delightful divertissement of a piece, light and frothy, with good tunes and sparkling orchestrations. There’s nothing profound or searching about it but it communicates, and that’s half the battle these days!

Schuman’s Song of Orpheus was written for Leonard Rose, who gave the première in 1962 and recorded it, with the Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by George Szell…It’s a one movement meditation on the famous lines by Shakespeare, preceding this performance actress Jane Alexander reads the poem. Schuman’s work is not as vivacious as the poem, being quite dark at times, especially the opening which doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Orpheus and his lute making trees and the mountaintops that freeze, and I don’t feel any connection, anywhere in the work, with the concept of killing care and grief of heart, but the end could be said to mirror the final lines “…fall asleep or hearing, die”. Perhaps we should forget the poem and understand the music as a very beautiful evocation for soloist and orchestra; it’s quite approachable and it doesn’t have any of the slightly academic feel, and angularity, which some of Schuman’s music displays. Quite simply, this is a superb work for cello and smallish orchestra. 

Virgil Thomson’s Concerto is rather more serious than one might expect, and it’s in a very discernable classical form. There have been other recordings over the years… and this is the second recording of it on CD in recent years. Each of the three movements have descriptive titles. The first is Rider on the Plains and it’s open air music, one can almost see the man on horseback, his Stetson on his head, riding off into the sunset after a job well done. The slow movement is a set of variations on a Southern Hymn Tune and it is stately and measured, but never sombre. The finale is named Children’s Games and it is skittish and great fun—with a prominent part for xylophone. As the Concerto fell out of the repertoire—Pierre Fournier and Anthony Pini had championed it—Thomson wondered if the solo part was too difficult but a performance as committed as this proves that, in the long run, Thomson was right not to tamper with the piece. 

Soloist Yehuda Hanani, who plays brilliantly throughout, has a special connection with all of the music on this disk. He gave the première of the Perry, studied with Leonard Rose for whom Schuman wrote his work and he plays the cello used by Paul Olefsky at the first performance of Thomson’s Concerto in 1950. He is ably partnered by the RTÉ Orchestra under its former Principal Guest Conductor. The notes are very good and the recording, if a little dry, is clear with a good balance between soloist and orchestra. 

This is a very interesting disk of American cello concertos and, as with so many of Naxos’s disks of neglected music, it makes us yearn to hear the pieces in the flesh. This is a real bargain for anyone wanting to investigate some newer music which they might otherwise, at top price, ignore. Enjoy it.

Joanne Talbot
The Strad, December 2008

Jamestown Concerto by the American composer William Perry (b.1930) offers a cinematic, tonally approachable style painted with colourful orchestration and an appealing programme tracing the history of the first English settlement in the United States from the pioneers to the present day. The story involves the legend of Pocahontas, and a movement is devoted to her arrival in London—strikingly perky and jaunty, and a sharp contrast to the previous austere section depicting the harsh winters.

A pupil of Hindemith, Perry has an impressive textural command, though his language is more reminiscent of Vaughan Williams in the opening movement and peppered by an urban Coplandesque style in the finale. Yehuda Hanani gives a persuasive account of a work that surely has strong potential for popularity in the US. Less appealing is the lyrical yet tonally ambiguous fantasy by William Schuman, based on Shakespeare's poem Orpheus with his Lute (read eloquently here by actress Jane Alexander). The work's opening is perhaps its most evocative moment, but for a 23-minute piece the raw material needs to be more distinctive as the musical thread doesn't readily present itself.

Once again Hanani and the well-recorded RTE orchestra give an intelligent reading, and the soloist's technical accomplishment is impressive, aside from the very occasional wayward moment of intonation in the highest passages.

Hanani concludes this enterprising programme with Virgil Thomson's Concerto. The buoyant and colourful opening is soundly tonal, though the middle movement—based on the 'Tribulation' hymn—offers a more imaginative poly tonal section, before the cheery if somewhat bland fare returns.

Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, November 2008

The Naxos American Classics series has come up with some real gems. Among the sparklers are discs from Gloria Coates, John Corigliano, Kenneth Fuchs and Paul Moravec, all of which have spent time in my CD player this year [More MusicWeb International reviews of Naxos American classics titles]. Even the better-known pieces of Americana from Copland and Ives have received persuasive—and competitive—outings in this series.

So, what of this latest offering? Among the three composers we have two Williams, of whom Schuman is probably the best known; and then there’s Virgil Thomson, most celebrated for his film scores, The River and The Plow That Broke the Plains [DISCOVER FILM MUSIC  (8.558210-11),  THOMSON: The Plow that Broke the Plains /The River CD (8.559291) & DVD  (2.110521)]. He and Perry have both written for visual media, so it’s no surprise that the latter’s work—composed for the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, Virginia—has a cinematic sweep to it.

Cellist Yehuda Hanani launches the concerto with a warm, lyrical solo before a fanfare conjures up the spirit of 17th century England. This first movement, which quotes Elizabethan madrigals, has a Korngoldian surge at times, but without the latter’s harmonic richness. Indeed, the Irish band sound rather distant, which tends to highlight the music’s paucity of good material. That said, the movement ends with a splendid flourish for orchestra, before we move to the new town on the James River and the struggle between settlers and Indians. Musically this is straightforward pictorialism, with brass motifs for captains and chiefs, thudding drums for cannon and, in the second movement, a gentle cello-led prelude evoking the dawn...So how does the Schuman piece, inspired by a snippet from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, compare? The disc includes a reading of this text—also printed in the booklet—before the work itself…A Song of Orpheus is a fine piece, spoilt by a tinder-dry recording; the solo and orchestral playing also lacks that last degree of eloquence. I was heartened by the more spirited opening to the Thomson concerto—acoustics notwithstanding —sensing some of the unbridled energy of his Depression-era film scores. The cello part is vigorous yet direct, the orchestral writing robust yet full of individual touches: just sample the ever-present snare drums that hark back to ‘War and the Tractor’ from The Plow That Broke the Plains.

But it’s the central movement, ‘Variations on a Southern Hymn’, that really captures that stoic mood of pioneering America; despite the close recording the music expands rather well in the movement’s few climaxes. And Thomson’s yearning, song-like melodies will surely strike a chord with Copland fans.

On the subject of singing Hanani acquits himself well in this concerto, with a warm, lyrical tone that seems entirely apt. He modulates easily into the sprightly, more cheerful rhythms of ‘Children’s Games’, which has some of the most characterful music on this disc. If only the playing and recording were more satisfying this would be even more delectable than it is...On the plus side the liner-notes are very detailed, and include several music examples.

Rad Bennett, October 2008

Musical Performance:
Sound Quality
Overall Enjoyment

Naxos has provided a great service to American music with its American Classics series. With an ever-expanding number of titles, this innovative company has managed to pay homage to familiar works by US composers, while offering unjustly neglected compositions a new chance at life. The project utilizes first-rate performers and the latest techniques in recorded sound.

William Perry’s Jamestown Concerto was written in 2007 for the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, VA, in 1607. It is programmatic, very tuneful, and adroitly scored, sounding more than a little bit like movie music. That is not meant as a slam, just an observation. William Schuman’s A Song of Orpheus was written for the famous cellist Leonard Rose, and this is the work's first recording since Rose taped it back in the early 1960s. The Naxos producers have had the brilliant idea to preface it with an eloquent reading of Shakespeare’s "Orpheus with his lute" by the distinguished actor Jane Alexander. Virgil Thomson’s Concerto was premiered in 1950 by Paul Olefsky. It is Thomson at his melodic best, the second movement based on a hymn, one of the composer’s favorite devices.

All three works are lyrical, and soloist Yehuda Hanani catches the singing quality of the beautiful musical phrases offered in each piece. The orchestra sounds much improved from previous recordings I have heard by it, and the recorded sound is rich, warm, and full without missing any detail.

Karl Lozier
Positive Feedback Online, September 2008

Lovers of music for cello plus orchestra are in for a treat with this release!  …This is the most satisfying recording featuring the cello that I have heard in many years! All around fine performances by Yehuda Hanani and very sympathetic accompaniment by conductor and orchestra plus fine CD audio quality by Naxos (encourage them to release this and more in the even better sound quality SACD format) makes for an outstanding release.

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