David Lockington

Adolphus Hailstork: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 3

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The large, ambitious symphonies of the imposingly named Adolphus Hailstork presented here do not make much explicit use of African-American vernacular materials, but the composer's heritage shows through in his preference for band-like textures -- and he indeed has written music for bands. There is a good deal for the percussionists to do as well, but this quality has as much to do with the basic musical language employed as with any questionable cultural affinities -- these are full-fledged specimens of the neo-Romantic symphony, albeit diverted from crowd-pleaser status by a serious tone that pervades the Symphony No. 2, especially. Hailstork notes that he intended the work as abstract, not programmatic, but a visit to the Ghanaian forts and dungeons from which slaves were sent off to death or doom. The Grave second movement of that work, part of a pair with the broadly hopeful finale that forms the work's heart, is an episodic lament framed by solo utterances from an English horn, an impressive dirge that is moving even if one is unaware of the programmatic content. Michigan's only regionally known Grand Rapids Symphony emerges as the star of the show here, with Hailstork's demanding, angular brass writing rendered with a clarity that wouldn't disappoint the Chicagoans down the road and his long passages of scene-setting in the strings executed with a smoothness characteristic of orchestras with much longer experience in making recordings. It's not clear whether Hailstork turned to Samuel Barber specifically as an influence, but anyone who enjoys the work of that American master will find music of depth and superb competence here.

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