This unique album is a wonderful snapshot of American jazz in an orchestral setting. Most classical music aficionados are familiar with George Gershwin and his works such as Rhapsody in Blue, but there are also a number of less-famous composers who wrote around the same time who are no less brilliant. These composers also interacted with and influenced each other. For example, James Price Johnson also wrote a rhapsody, entitled Yamekraw, Negro Rhapsody, which is a sophisticated work full of tempo changes, varied rhythms, and various moods and character. (William Grant Still orchestrated this piece.) Yamekraw swings and is syncopated, giving it a very dancelike feel, and the Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra does an excellent job bringing the music alive without ever making it rigid. Not only do it play beautifully on this first piece, but also through the rest of the album, where it truly captures all the moods jazz pieces require while never losing strong classical technique. It is much to conductor Richard Rosenberg's credit that all of the pieces have energy and good musical taste. The Suite for banjo & orchestra surprisingly showcases the instrument much like a violin, and even a mandolin in the second movement. Two works by Dana Suesse are another joy to hear. Her Jazz Nocturne begins with an ethereal feel that conjures up the night, and then a jazz melody enters on the piano. The piece is romantic, with a sweeping melody in the strings (not surprisingly, a popular song was based on one of the melodies in this piece). Suesse's Concerto in Three Rhythms is a complex piece that draws on syncopations, active dialogues between instruments, and long, legato lines in the strings. The third movement is especially exciting, an orchestrally fleshed-out rag that shows the strength of this talented yet relatively unknown composer. Suesse and Gershwin were well acquainted with each other, so it is fitting that Rhapsody in Blue should also be included on this album. What sets apart this recording of an arguably overplayed piece is its interpretation: it is like a work of jazz that happens to be played by an orchestra, rather than an orchestra trying to play a jazz composition. Pianist Tatiana Roitman's style is clean and bright, accompanied by a sprightly orchestra. The legato lines are never schmaltzy, but crisp. Highly recommended and highly enjoyable.
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AllMusic Review by V. Vasan
|Suite for Banjo and Orchestra|
|Concerto in Three Rhythms|