Cincinnati Symphony Presents American Portraits

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra used to be one of the crown jewels of the Telarc label — back in the day. Now they join an increasing number of orchestras who are self-releasing their material. And like their former label mates the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, they’re starting off with a strong release of interesting and compelling repertoire.

American Portraits showcases works by living (and relatively young) American composers. Several of these pieces received their premier with the CSO. All are well-crafted compositions that bear up to repeated listening.

Charles Coleman has two works on the album. “Streetscape” opens the program. It’s reminiscent of Bernstein’s “West Side Story” overture, but with a higher level of energy. “Deep Woods” is a very different piece. It opens in a frantic and disjointed manner that, ( to me anyway) conveys a feeling of unease and disorientation of being lost in the woods.

Jennifer Higdon’s “Fanfare Ritmico” wasn’t premiered by the CSO, but they turn in a rousing performance nevertheless. This is short, festive occasional work that, as the tile suggest, has a good beat. The fun continues with “Slalom” by Carter Pann. It starts out with a quick quote from Beethoven, then makes a light-hearted run through the orchestra at break-neck speed. Slalom, indeed!

“Halcyon Sun” is an amazing example of orchestral mastery. Jonathan Bailey Holland creates a work that shimmers as light through a prism. The last work, “Network,” by Kevin Puts is a short, good-natured composition that ends the program on a high note. American Portraits is impeccably recorded. Even though these are live performances the sound has a good amount of detail, and the audience (with one exception) unusually quiet.

Paavo Jarvi conducts with authority and conviction, making the case for all of these works by leading the orchestra in lively and energetic performances.American Portraits makes the case that music in this country is not just alive, but full of life as well. Highly recommended.

American Portraits: Charles Coleman, Jennifer Higdon, Carter Pann, Jonathan Bailey Holland, Kevin Puts
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra ; Paavo Jarvi, conductor  
CSO Media

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