Aaron Jay Kernis: Three Flavors of Exuberance

This album presents three works by American composer Aaron Jay Kernis. They were all written between 2002 and 2007, providing a snapshot of Kernis’ evolving style. And that style is engaging, accessible, and exuberant.

Three Flavors began life as a concerto for toy piano and orchestra. While Kernis revised the work for a grand piano, he retained its sense of fun. From the driving ostinato of the first movement through the gorgeous lullaby of the second to the jazz-inflected finale, this is a concerto that appeals on many levels. I enjoyed it the first time I heard it, and with repeated listenings grew to appreciate the imaginative orchestration and thematic structure of the work.

Two Movements (with Bells) is an homage to Kernis’ father, with echoes of mid-century blues and jazz skillfully woven into its evocative melodies. This virtuoso work was commissioned for violinist James Ehnes, and in this recording he owns it.

The Superstar Etude No. 3 is an homage to George Gershwin, but I didn’t need to read the liner notes to know that. This ferocious piano piece captures the spirit of Gershwin, equally at home in the classical and jazz worlds. And Kernis does so without losing his own compositional voice.

Pianist Andrew Russo is a long-term collaborator with Kernis. His performances show the deep understanding he has of this music, and in my opinion, brings out their full potential. This was one recording I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.

Aaron Jay Kernis: Three Flavors for piano and orchestra; Two Movements (with Bells) for violin and pinao; Ballade(e) out of the Blue(s) — Superstar Etude No. 3
Andrew Russo, piano; James Ehnes, violin; Albany Symphony Orchestra; David Alan Miller, conductor
Naxos 8.559711

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