Charleston Symphony Orchestra, Ken Lam, conductor; Yuriy Bekker, violin; Harlem Quartet.
Edward HART: Under an Indigo Sky
Edward HART: A Charleston Concerto
Navona Records NV6497
Release Date: March 3, 2023
Format: Digital & Physical
Giorgio Koukl | 21 FEB 2023
On this very appealing disc, two concertos by the composer Edward Hart are presented for the first time. Upon listening to both works, a clear line appears: The composition skills of this unfortunately not-so-known author, at least here in Europe, are genuinely particular.
Hart is a master of instrumentation, has a fine sense of proportions, and is never tedious, even in the longer movements, where many lesser composers struggle with the required development. His preference for intelligent use of percussion creates a scintillating, spectacular orchestra sound where the soloists can display all their abilities without risk of being covered by a certainly big symphonic orchestra.
Without any doubt also a merit of the conductor Ken Lam, who accompanies with a firm hand and well-chosen dynamics. The Charleston Symphony Orchestra is perfectly at ease with this music, especially the percussion section.
The first work, a violin concerto called Under an Indigo Sky, is certainly a well-chosen opener. Thanks to the skillful playing of the violin soloist Yuriy Bekker and his superb Guarneri violin, the first movement, called “Fast Flowing Rivers,” immediately catches the listener’s attention by its witty use of rhythmical patterns, sometimes recalling some Leonard Bernstein works, but always highly original.
In all three movements of this concerto, there is plenty of space left for extensive cadenzas, so the soloist certainly has no complaints. And Mr. Bekker has a lot to show. This violinist, of Belarusian origins, possesses solid technical preparation, a fabulous intonation, and a great sense of proportion.
It is noteworthy to listen to the extensive use of timpani in a way that surely could have pleased Alexander Tcherepnin, the first composer to dare to use timpani solo for such lengthy passages.
A second movement, called “Warm Salt Air,” follows. Here the tempi are far more relaxed, but the combination of the warm sound of the violin and very subtle orchestral colors create a wonderful world. Easy to imagine the magical atmosphere the composer wanted to describe.
Strangely enough, the last movement, “Misty Blue Horizon,” is not the explosion of frenzy and fireworks one would expect. Instead, Mr. Bekker keeps the music wonderfully chamber style and continues drawing the colorful scenery with delicate, subtle means, a truly unusual but beautiful solution.
The second work on this CD, A Charleston Concerto, was written to commemorate the 350th Anniversary of the City of Charleston, South Carolina.
It also has three movements, called “Discovery,” “Tragedy and Reconciliation,” and “Tomorrow.”
Here the soloists are the Harlem String Quartet.
Using a string quartet as soloist with a full orchestra accompaniment is always tricky. In the past, many composers tried to do so, sometimes with only mixed results. The soloists do not have a big enough timbral difference from the rest of the orchestra, hence the need for complex and subtle calibration.
But it must be said that Mr. Hart achieved a very convincing work, giving the soloists a lot of space, so the score is exemplary in this regard.
Perhaps helped somewhat by the superior technical work of the sound engineers, the soloists never tend to disappear or become impossible to follow. It might be a different story in a live concert performance.
The beautiful second movement, “Tragedy and Reconciliation,” based on a Gullah Spiritual entitled “Sinnuh W’ah Yuh Doin’ Down Dere,” has a special sense of drama.
This release is an excellent opportunity to know an intriguing composer and his art. ■
- Charleston Symphony: charlestonsymphony.org
- Ken Lam: kenlam.org
- Edward Hart: president.cofc.edu/administration/officersanddeans/edward-hart.php
- Yuriy Bekker: yuriybekker.com
- Harlem Quartet: harlemquartet.com