Naxos' Jamestown Concerto: American Music for Cello and Orchestra features cellist Yehuda Hanani with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland under William Eddins in a program of one twenty first century American cello concerto with two more from the previous century. The newer work is Jamestown Concerto by William Perry, composed in 2007 to celebrate the quadricentennial of the founding of the Jamestown Colony, the first permanent European settlement in what became the United States of America. Long before the fame of his name was usurped by a football playing "refrigerator," Perry was established as a composer of music for silent films and for his work on the PBS series The Silent Years. Folks who insist that contemporary composers are elitists who have completely lost touch with both the audience and music itself should really give a good listen to Perry's concerto. While its five-movement structure seems a bit discursive for a concerto and Perry cannot resist a certain amount of cinematic flair, it is a solid, no-nonsense effort with properties of immediacy; no one will have any trouble relating this music to its program. William Schuman's rarely heard fantasia A Song of Orpheus (1961) is preceded by the Shakespeare poem -- from Henry VIII -- on which it is based, read affectingly by actress Jane Alexander. Whereas the Schuman is appropriately sorrowful and reserved, Virgil Thomson's Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra (1945) is ebullient and distinctively American, brimming with familiar hymn tunes and wry quotations from Beethoven. That doesn't mean all of it is untroubled; the slow and serious second movement has some particularly treacherous writing for the cello soloist.
Cellist Yehuda Hanani has a deep personal connection with all of this music; he premiered the Perry, studied with Leonard Rose who premiered the Schuman and is playing the same instrument used as in the 1945 premiere of the Thomson. Naxos' recording, in some respects, is rather conservative -- the recording is quiet overall and the while the soloist is well heard over the ensemble generally, a sense of individual presence and standing apart from the ensemble would have been preferable. Nevertheless, Naxos' Jamestown Concerto is a good disc and should appeal to those who enjoy relatively mainstream, typically American concert music.