Lewis Spratlan

Lewis Spratlan: In Memoriam

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Lewis Spratlan was one of the many very fine teaching composers off the radar screen of most classical audiences until he won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for Act II of his opera Life Is a Dream. The rigorous discipline of Spratlan's music is typical of that of composers of his generation (he was born in 1940) and is essentially modernist. His In Memoriam, from 1993, though, is shot through with stylistic diversity, including unabashed lyrical outbursts and Latin dances like the tango. The four-movement cantata for five soloists, chorus, and orchestra commemorates the fate of Latin American peoples whose cultures fell victim to European aggression, but ends with a celebration of survival. The piece demonstrates Spratlan's gifts as a vividly dramatic composer; the music for the most part has a seriousness and power that avoid trivializing the grim subject matter, and the spirited conclusion is ecstatic and wildly exuberant. The composer leads the Amherst College Choral Society and the Valley Festival Orchestra in a performance that invites favorable comparison with ensembles of far greater renown. The soloists are all very fine, but tenor Jon Humphrey stands out. Streaming: Quartet for Piano and Strings, an elegant and energetic work, also receives a lively, colorful performance. Both pieces were recorded live, and the sound is cleaner and more present in the quartet, recorded in 2004. The sound of the 1994 performance of the cantata is generally good, but the soloists are a little distant.

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