Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Adolphus Hailstork: An American Port of Call

Adolphus Hailstork: An American Port of Call
Virginia Symphony Orchestra
JoAnn Falletta, conductor

American composer Adolphus Hailstork has been quietly building up an impressive catalog of well-crafted works. This new collection brings some of them to light.

Hailstork's Symphony No. 1 is an expansive work with plenty of energy. Hailstork's melodies are always tuneful and rhythmic, which makes this symphony sparkle. For the most part, the work's thinly orchestrated. In some ways it's more of a symphony of small instrumental groups rather than a big ensemble.

Whtiman's Journey is a large-scale work for orchestra and chorus. Whitman's a quintessentially American poet, and Hailstork's open, Coplanesque composition brings out that aspect of poetry. It's a warm, elegiac work that's a satisfying blend of words and music.

An American Port of Call shares some characteristics of  William Walton's Portsmouith Point. both are short orchestral works depicting a busy seaport. Hailstork's composition has all the energy of a bustling waterfront, with different musical themes moving back and forth in crosscurrents. A splendid curtain-raiser.

Hailstork draws on his African-American heritage for Three Spirituals. Although there's some jazz inflections in this work, Three Spirituals is first and foremost a concert piece for orchestra. The melodies may be familiar, but Hailstork develops them in interesting ways that, while symphonic in nature, remain true to the character of the source material.

Fanfare on Amazing Grace is an imaginative treatment of this well-known (and perhaps over-performed hymn). The tune provides the starting point from which he builds a superstructure of original material, that reveals new insights about this melody.

Adolphus Hailstork lives in eastern Virginia. The Virginia Symphony, is a hometown  ensemble, well familiar with Hailstork's music. Under the direction of JoAnn Falletta, this regional orchestra turns in credible performances. Sometimes the ensemble playing isn't as precise as it needs to be, but that's a minor quibble. It's a joy simply to hear these works played.

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