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MusicWeb International, March 2013

The varied selection of works featured here was, according to the information supplied, recorded on the same day in concert. This makes it an all-the-more impressive set of performances, particularly from the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, deftly marshalled by Naxos stalwart JoAnn Falletta.

Hailstork was born in Norfolk, Virginia, making this disc a very homely affair. The lively, good-humoured concert overture An American Port of Call is probably the composer’s best known work. It was inspired by his home town and performed by its dedicatee orchestra. The four-movement neo-Classical-ish First Symphony is strongly Coplandesque, with a dash of Stravinsky, and thus a work of considerable warmth and charm. The Three Spirituals—a jazzy Everytime I Feel the Spirit, the famous Kum Ba Yah and a Gershwin-like Oh Freedom—are even more strongly reminiscent of Copland. The short Fanfare on Amazing Grace is more appealing than its title may suggest, and instantly memorable. © MusicWeb International Read complete review

Colin Clarke
Fanfare, January 2013

…[this] is a nicely mixed disc…A jaunty first movement talks with a typical Hailstork straightforwardness of utterance. All credit to JoAnn Falletta and her Virginians for hitting the bullseye when it comes to projecting the spiky rhythms and equally piquant harmonies of the first movement. The lyric nature of the second movement (Adagio: Lento ma non troppo) is immediately apparent, and the tenderness at the heart of the movement is viscerally revealed here, while the Scherzo invoked neoclassical Stravinsky…All credit to the fast-on-their-feet woodwind players here.

Inspired by Norfolk, Virginia, the concert overture An American Port of Call…bristles with energy. Tremendous scoring (sparkly, clear, well crafted) meets with a performance of vital energy here…All tremendous fun. It would be good to hear this in the concert hall. The vivacious Fanfare on Amazing Grace…acts as its own type of curtain raiser to the Whitman piece. The chorus is exemplary…there is no doubting the fact that this Naxos issue offers an irresistible cross section of Hailstork’s music. © 2013 Fanfare Read complete review

Daniel Coombs
Audiophile Audition, November 2012

Adolphus Hailstork is truly one of this country’s most important and respected composers and if you have never heard of him or his music; this album is a very good place to start.

His music is tonal, exciting, sometimes brash; very “accessible” and sounds quite ‘American.’ This collection of works illustrates the point very well, indeed.

His Symphony No. 1 dates from 1988 and follows a standard four-movement symphony form. This is a very fine work with wonderful section writing and wind solos throughout and has a very distinctive sound. I found every bit of this piece to be attention-getting and very rewarding but I especially enjoyed the subtle, elegant and somewhat “Copland-esque” Adagio. The final Rondo: Vivace bears some of these same traits. This is a strong vibrant work that – just like his Symphony No. 2 – deserves to be played more often.

The Three Spirituals for Orchestra are just what the title implies. This is a buoyant and uplifting concert suite of arrangements of three traditional American spirituals; originally set as an organ work. The songs in question are “Every Time I Feel the Spirit”, “Kum Ba Yah” and “Oh, Freedom.” This is a very pleasant and uplifting work and treats the song material in a fairly straight forward work with orchestrations and a feel that recall Gershwin, including a lovely English horn solo at the beginning of “Kum Ba Yah.”

An American Port of Call is a brief highly energetic work that was written for the Virginia Symphony in 1985. It exists in the same sonata-allegro form as many of Hailstork’s works and effectively evokes the bustle, crowdedness and occasional risks of work in a large American port; like Newport, Virginia (which I have visited and it is a fascinating place.) The vocabulary is tonal with some dramatic use of stridency and some very attractive blues and jazz-inflected solos throughout. Similarly, the Fanfare on ‘Amazing Grace’ is a brief and engaging exploration of the title work. I have heard many of the composer’s band and wind ensemble works, too, and he does excel at a wide variety of fairly succinct and very attractive concert works.

This very rewarding disc concludes with the broad, solemn and moving Whitman’s Journey – Launch Out on Endless Seas for chorus, baritone soloist and orchestra. Hailstork’s music is similarly panoramic, reaching and – again – ‘American’. It is a wonderful work performed quite well here with special commendation to the tight harmonies and diction of the Virginia Symphony Chorus and to the big warm sound of baritone Kevin Deas.

This disc also showcases the appreciable skills of the Virginia Symphony and Chorus under the direction of one of America’s best known female conductors, Jo Ann Falletta, whose tight leadership is comparable to any conductor.

I strongly recommend this disc! What a great way to get to know a composer, an orchestra and a conductor who all deserve to be known even more. Kudos again to Naxos for making such music available! © 2012 Audiophile Audition Read complete review

Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, November 2012

The title work on this CD, An American Port of Call…is Hailstork’s most-recorded work…it celebrates Norfolk with unbridled energy and touches of nostalgia. The exuberant Three Spirituals…consists of orchestral settings of works originally written for pipe organ, each offering a distinctive character…Fanfare on Amazing Grace …originally a work for organ, brass, and percussion, is an effective opener with some creative transformations of the hymn tune.

The four-movement symphony, classical in design and scale, was written for a summer music festival, and it is open-air music in the best sense: full of character and instantly ingratiating. Sonorous bass-baritone Kevin Deas projects words and music with striking conviction, and the choral performance is clean and thoroughly engaged.

The engineers have done their job well. Falletta and her Norfolk-based ensemble present these works with distinction, and they offer several desirable works otherwise not available. If it is these, or simply an introduction to the works of this American master that you are seeking, you can’t go wrong with this release. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, July 2012

A student of Nadia Boulanger...and Vittorio Giannini...among others, American composer Adolphus Hailstork (b. 1941) makes a welcome return to these pages...with this recent release. Previously you’d have to buy several full-priced CDs to get the five choice selections offered here, but now Naxos gives us all of them on a single bargain-priced one.

The concert begins with the first of Adolphus’ three symphonies dating from 1988. It’s in the standard four movements, scored for an orchestra like that typically found in a Haydn (1732-1809) or Mozart (1756-1791) symphony, and in some respects his equivalent of Prokofiev’s (1891-1953) Classical Symphony (No. 1, 1916-17). There’s a kinky rhythmic irreverence about the opening allegro that’s quite ear-catching, and may at times remind you of Poulenc’s (1899-1963) Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani (1938).

The next adagio is a wistful string-woodwind-dominated pastoral offering at times recalling Howard Hanson’s (1896-1981) Romantic Symphony (No. 2, 1930). It couldn’t be more different from the faunal scherzo, which is easy to imagine as Hailstork’s answer to Saint-Saëns’ (1835-1921) Carnival of the Animals (1886). Pursuant to that analogy, it gets off to a scurrying start with a twitchy-whiskered mouse (strings), followed by a dyspeptic duck (oboe), agitated canary (flute), lurking wolf (horns, trumpets and lower strings) and an oafish bear (bassoon and clarinet).

There’s something of Leonard Bernstein’s (1918-1990) Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (1960) in the jazzy finale. It’s a clever compact presto where all the important previous motifs come home to roost.

The next selection, Three Spirituals, is an orchestral arrangement the composer made in 2005 of some earlier organ pieces (no date given). The first “Every time I feel the Spirit” is a festive lively opener capturing all the exuberance of the original tune. The following “Kum Ba Yuh” is a mournful deeply religious offering looking forward to happier days. These would seem to be reflected in the concluding “Oh Freedom,” which ends the piece with an upbeat Gershwin (1898-1937) “I Got Rhythm” (1930) feeling.

The concert overture An American Port of Call (1985) [track-8] was inspired by the composer’s hometown of Norfolk, Virginia. It opens with what might best be described as a Woody Woodpecker theme (WW) [00:02] that’s the subject of a brilliantly scored bustling development conjuring up images of stevedores and cranes working the city’s busy docks.

It’s made all the more colorful by the jazzy strains of a muted trumpet, percussive pops on a wooden block, and bluesy Gershwinesque clarinet...A winsome lyrical section (WL) derived from WW follows [02:44], providing a peaceful interlude after which the music resumes its hectic pace. WL then makes a brief reappearance [05:39], and the overture closes on the waterfront just as it began.

Hailstork’s Fanfare on Amazing Grace (2003) comes next, and is a rousing arrangement of that timeless hymn tune (AG). It opens with timpani-accented brass fanfares over a pedal point held by the rest of the orchestra. The former are repeated throughout as AG makes its appearance in the strings [01:18], and builds to a commanding climax, ending the piece in triumph.

The program concludes with Whitman’s Journey: Launch Out on Endless Seas (2005) for baritone, chorus and orchestra [track-10]. Based on texts (see the album notes) from early poems found in Walt Whitman’s (1819-1892) Leaves of Grass (1855-91), it entreats mankind to join the poet as he sets sail on the seas of life’s great journey.

The cinematic orchestral introduction inspires thoughts of imposing oceans, and gives way to an exhortation delivered by chorus [02:09] and baritone [06:43] with the words “Take ship, O Soul!” Perspicacious Vaughan Williams’ (1872-1958) fans will recognize lines that also appear in “The Explorers” finale of his Sea Symphony (1903-09, revised 1923).

The piece ends with an arresting syncopated, percussively spiked “Jubilant song” [14:34] set to a particularly expansive Whitman poem. With orchestral moments that are a cross between Walton’s (1902-1983) Belshazzar’s Feast (1930-31, revised 1938 and 1957) and Bernstein’s On the Town (1944), it concludes this flowery cantata in a state of hyperbolic ecstasy.

The Virginia Symphony Orchestra under their music director JoAnn Falletta give splendid performances of the four orchestral works here. They’re joined by the superb Virginia Chorus and baritone Kevin Deas, who’s in fine voice, for an equally commendable account of the Whitman…. What’s more, these live recordings done at the Wilder Performing Arts Center, Norfolk State University, Virginia, capture a sense of spontaneity and excitement often missing in the studio!

When it comes to concert recordings, audio engineers frequently employ close directional miking to minimize background noise, which inevitably leads to unnatural in-your-face sonics. Fortunately that’s been avoided here probably with appropriate touch-up sessions and skillful editing. The soundstage projected is accordingly well proportioned and oriented in an inviting venue. Also the audience is as quiet as a mouse with no hint of tussis or applause.

The instrumental timbre is quite musical except for a sprinkling of upper digital grain, particularly in massed vocal passages. The balance between soloist, chorus and orchestra is beyond reproach. Taking all this into account, these live recordings are very good and close to audiophile grade. © 2012 Classical Lost and Found

Maestro Steve
Cinemusical, July 2012

Joann Falletta’s work with the Buffalo Philharmonic has yielded some of that orchestra’s best performances since the days of Michael Tilson Thomas. Her choice of repertoire certainly helps lift the awareness of important lesser-known works, celebrates new music, and even touches upon the familiar as well.

The first work presented is the Haydn-esque short Symphony No. 1…Straightforward themes may seem less part of the structure but they are there along with often wonderful motivic development and great rhythmic play. The second movement features a beautifully lyrical melodic idea that moves through the strings providing a rich tapestry in hushed tones at first that makes for a great contrast to the first movement. Delicate solo work allows the orchestra to really shine here. The final rondo revisits primary thematic material cast in a more Americana style and making for a great close to this work. The piece is certainly worthy of more hearings and makes for a great introduction to the accessibility of Hailstork’s music.

The central portion of this disc is given over to three briefer pieces. First are arrangements of Three Spirituals…These are truly gorgeous arrangements with moments of jazz or blues styles that recall music of the 1930s/1940s…The last spiritual even has a train-like rhythmic idea and great string slides in a pops-like atmosphere. It would be hard to find a better audience-pleasing set of arrangements than what appears here.

The center work…An American Port of Call…is a concert overture…Set in sonata-allegro form, the exciting bustle of the opening section gives way to a more lyrical idea of equal interest. The Fanfare on ‘Amazing Graze’ provides the bookend to this section and has an almost cinematic quality. These are all equally fine works that command more attention.

The final piece, Launch Out on Endless Seas…certainly makes for a worthy addition to choral and orchestral literature. The choral writing can be quite delicate at times and occurs often without much accompaniment, the orchestra managing to provide dramatic commentary as needed. The result is simply magnificent.

The Virginia Symphony proves to be an admirable ensemble that tackles these works with great energy and commitment. They are able to bring out subtleties in this music and tackle some of the rhythmic difficulties with great facility. They are able to navigate the different styles of contemporary orchestral writing and provide the right jazzy inflections when called for in crisp articulation. One is not likely to find better performances of these works for some time on disc… © 2012 Cinemusical Read complete review

Lee Teply, July 2012

The recently released album of that concert is so high in quality—both the performance and the recording—that it is hard to believe it was made from a single live performance, where anything can happen and things can go wrong. Here, nearly everything went right.

The symphony, led by music director JoAnn Falletta, is in perfect balance. Details of Hailstork’s creative orchestration come through with the same clarity heard in the many beautifully shaped solos. Inspired by the occasion, the musicians play with great energy and genuine excitement.

The recording works on a couple of levels. Because the material is so satisfying, it can be enjoyed repeatedly as accompaniment to other activity. © 2012 Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2012

Born in Rochester, New York, in 1941, Adolphus Hailstork studied in the United States and France before settling into a life as a composer and college professor. His mature student years took him into the arena of cutting edge modernism, his mentors including Vittorio Giannini and David Diamond. What has emerged from this disc of five works—written in the twenty years from 1985—would show a composer whose roots are in tonality and stylistically working in a post-Copland Americanism. The symphony was commissioned in 1987 for a summer festival where it would have a Haydn-sized orchestra. An uncomplicated score in four movements, it has a peppery scherzo and a proactive rondo finale to bring the work to a happy conclusion. It had followed two years after An American Port of Call, a concert overture to showcase the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, the work’s hectic nature picturing the bustle of the port of Norfolk. The year 2003 was marked with the orchestral Fanfare on Amazing Grace. Originally for pipe organ, the setting of three spirituals, Everytime I Feel The Spirit, Kum Ba Yah and Oh Freedom retain the essence of the original song transferred to the orchestra. Ending the disc is a work with solo baritone that sets words by Walt Whitman, that has more than a passing influence from Copland, to create a picture of people setting out on the seas of life. Kevin Deas is the warm and rounded bass soloist, the chorus singing with confidence. JoAnn Falletta and the Virginia orchestra has obviously given Hailstork an excellent disc to take his name on international circulation. Derived from concert performances in May 2011 at the Norfolk State University, the sound quality is excellent. © 2012 David’s Review Corner, June 2012

Hailstork’s communication is forthright and vivid, and he interprets “endless seas” more metaphorically than did Vaughan Williams and Hanson, looking at life itself as a sea and one’s life progress as a journey. Written in 2005, Whitman’s Journey has hymnlike qualities and an overall hopeful outlook. The other pieces on this CD are orchestral but no less effectively communicative. Symphony No. 1 (1988) alternates bright and lyrical sections to good effect within a traditional four-movement structure and a modest time span (21 minutes). Three Spirituals (2005) were originally written for organ but sound just fine in orchestral guise, thanks in part to the sheer familiarity of the tunes: “Everytime I Feel the Spirit,” “Kum Ba Yah” and “Oh Freedom.” Fanfare on Amazing Grace (2003) also uses a well-known spiritual as the basis for a nicely balanced orchestral arrangement. And on the entirely secular side, An American Port of Call (1985) neatly evokes the bustling busy-ness of Norfolk, Virginia. Hailstork has written many works for the Virginia Symphony, which plays his music with all the verve and color it deserves—and with a sure sense of familiarity. JoAnn Falletta, a longtime and strong advocate of less-known music with the Buffalo Philharmonic, is also Music Director of the Virginia Symphony, which she leads with a firm and knowing hand and from which she extracts nicely balanced sound. The directness of expression of Hailstork’s music, coupled with the considerable skill with which he composes it, make this CD a pleasure in both its choral and orchestral offerings. © 2012 Read complete review

AfriClassical, May 2012

Award-winning composer Adolphus Hailstork is a vibrant communicator whose music speaks directly and subtly. His Symphony No. 1 was commissioned for festival performance and is imbued with the engaging, lyrical and vivid qualities of which he is a master. The Three Spirituals are richly affecting orchestral settings originally written for pipe organ. Amazing Grace: Fanfare is nobly conceived and An American Port of Call, written for the Virginia Symphony, evokes the bustle inspired by Norfolk, Virginia. Whitman’s Journey is a hymn of hope for those setting out on ‘the seas of life’. © 2012 Africlassical Read complete review

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