Maya Angelou / Louis Langrée

Hallowed Ground

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The chief attraction for many listeners on this debut release by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's Fanfare Cincinnati label will be the presence of poet Maya Angelou in one of her last appearances before her death in 2014. Even with a diminished voice, Angelou makes a powerful reader indeed for Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait, instinctively grasping the quasi-preached quality of Copland's text. The album also marked the debut performance with the orchestra of its new music director, French conductor Louis Langrée, who despite not having grown up with the Copland rituals obviously responded to the power of the occasion, and the crowd response, partly retained on the recording, is electric. The three pieces on the program were recorded live, but were part of three separate concerts at Cincinnati's venerable Music Hall, but the synergy between the Copland and David Lang's Mountain, a commissioned work, is nevertheless striking. The newer work is a minimalist collection of chords and drum strokes that depicts an unchanging view of a mountain peak, but it is also filled with Coplandesque orchestral sonorities and suggests how deeply Copland's influence is ingrained in American art music. The other commissioned piece, Nico Muhly's Pleasure Ground, is both less effective and thematically distant from the first two works, and you can probably find a Lincoln Portrait that's cleaner in purely musical terms, but it is good to have this piece of Angelou's legacy.

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