Chineke! Orchestra / Kevin John Edusei

Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 'From the New World'; Sibelius: Finlandia

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The U.K.'s Chineke! Orchestra, which reached the Proms just two years after coming into existence and has made quite a splash, chose seemingly mainstream repertoire for this, its first recording. The group has the stated goal of furthering career opportunities of black and minority musicians in the U.K. and Europe, and it has performed the music of the Chevalier de Saint-Georges and other composers of African descent. There are specific reasons, however, for the choice of Dvorák's Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 ("From the New World"), and Sibelius' patriotic tone poem Finlandia, Op. 26. The former, although the extent of the influence is debatable, was chosen because of the presence of African-American and Native American music in the work. More intriguing is the continuing resonance of Finlandia; many listeners will be surprised to learn that it served as the national anthem of the breakaway Nigerian province of Biafra in the 1970s. In any event, the performances are satisfying apart from these considerations. Conductor Kevin John Edusei, also chief conductor of the Munich Symphony, is particularly effective in the Dvorák, forging taut, brisk movements that shed the long tradition of sentimentality associated with this work. Sample the opening movement to hear a representative bit of his entirely original and carried-through interpretations. Putting Finlandia first is also a fresh touch. The Chineke! Orchestra is not a full-time professional group, and while nothing is fluffed, glittering ensemble work is still to come. There is evident, genuine enthusiasm for the music and for the project, however, and this album bodes well for the latter.

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