New Energy For The Americas

Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra

Ocean Records, 1997

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Since I was a small boy, I have always enjoyed classical music - thanks in part to the "Funk & Wagnalls Family Library of Great Music" collection that A&P offered back in the mid-70s. True story: I spent almost five years searching for a specific version of Bach's "Brandenburg Concertos" before I finally unearthed it on CD. Though I mostly review rock on these pages, I still enjoy kicking back once in a while with a good classical album.

But many people don't realize that classical music didn't die with the great composers; it is still an art form which is alive and well. Two composers, Eduardo Alonso-Crespo and Nancy Galbraith, are prime examples of this, as highlighted on the disc New Energy From The Americas. And while I'll admit I'm still partial to artists like Chopin and Mozart, the efforts of these two composers are quite admirable.

Under the direction of Keith Lockhart (who has since become famous as the third conductor of the Boston Pops), the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra makes a strong case to become as well-known as other symphony orchestras around the world. Their performance on this disc is incredible - and from what I could see on the Internet, this could be one of the first recordings released by this group. (This disc is also extremely hard to find; I couldn't find a listing for it on Music Boulevard, CD Now, or CD Universe - though I'm sure they could order it for you.) (Editor's note: With the folding of Ocean Records, this one has probably become even harder to find.)

Alonso-Crespo's work is represented in the guise of four selections from three of his works. Written in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Juana, la loca is an opera which has a truly "classical" sound to it, as heard in the two selections from it. The overture is especially noteworthy - the crests and ebbs of the music almost make it feel like you are on the journey as well. The "Ballet Music" selection takes a little time to get used to, but also proves to be worth the effort.

The overture from Yubarta, an opera calling to attention the plight of endangered species, is more challenging. It is not as upbeat as that from Juana, la loca - but maybe it was not meant to be. I tend to be reminded of Tschaikovsky's Pathetique symphony when I hear this, but I can't say I've totally warmed up to it just yet. The final selection, a waltz from Pursi, is equally as challenging - it has somewhat the traditional flow of a waltz, but it does not always stay in that rhythm pattern clearly. Under the leadership of Alonso-Crespo as conductor, he makes sure the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra stays true to the feeling of his works. Alonso-Crespo proves himself to be a venerable composer in his own right, and I am now interested in hearing the full versions of some of his works.

Galbraith is represented here with "Piano Concerto No. 1," a work which again is challenging. The first movement gives the orchestra a chance to build up the mood before the piano - played by Ralph Zitterbart - comes in to set the mood. Personally, when I think of a piano concerto, I expect the piano to be the centerpiece of the work. However, in the case of this concerto, it often seems as if the piano is secondary to the performance of the ensemble - which can be distracting.

The second movement is the most challenging, with a mood of suspense built by a subdued piano and a faint tremolo of the string section. Everything resolves itself well in the third movement, and the piano tends to step forward a little bit more.

This work is one which, quite frankly, one probably will not appreciate with one cursory listen. I listened to the work five times, and while I do enjoy the concerto more, I still don't think I've captured all the nuances. (This one, by the way, is best listened to with headphones, to capture some of the subtleties of the performance.)

To those who are most familiar with more established works and better-known composers, New Energy From The Americas serves as both a wake-up call as well as a challenge. It reminds us that there are still composers out there trying to preserve a beautiful form of music, but it also tries to erase an accidental stigma classical music has thrust upon itself. The scene has tended to keep only certain composers' works alive (remember the torture of - do I have his name right? - Salieri in Amadeus?), so when a different name comes to the front, it's harder to accept.

New Energy From The Americas is a wonderful showcase - not only for the two composers whose work is highlighted here, not for the young conductor who is at the top of his game, not even for the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. It is a showcase for classical music itself - far from dead, though unjustly far from the eyes of many music lovers. Finding this one is going to be a tough search, but it is a rewarding one.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Ocean Records, and is used for informational purposes only.