Music for a Time of War

Carlos Kalmar / Oregon Symphony

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Music for a Time of War Review

by Mike D. Brownell

Music for a Time of War, a PentaTone Classics album featuring the Oregon Symphony under Carlos Kalmar, brings together four powerful, moving compositions that in some way were inspired by war, conflict, and strife. While many albums bring together the wealth of music written during or immediately following the Second World War, Kalmar's program is more varied and is made quite successful because of it. The disc opens with Ives' solitary, isolating Unanswered Question, which, though not directly brought about by a war, nevertheless addresses conflict within the score. Walt Whitman's wrenching account of his medical duties during the Civil War is set to great effect by John Adams. Baritone Sanford Sylvan's performance here is as gripping as Whitman's words: deep, resonant tone, clear diction, and a seamless blend with the orchestra characterize Sylvan's singing. More directly inspired by specific military events is militaristic and evocative Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem. The program closes with Vaughan Williams Fourth Symphony which, though completed in 1931, the composer denied it being any sort of depiction of military buildup. Perhaps in retrospect we find things in the sometimes savage, frenzied score that remind us of the events of the time. Throughout the disc, Kalmar and the Oregon Symphony prove they can easily stand alongside the world's great orchestras. Their sound is powerful and engaging, their technique is polished and effortless, and the intricate control of balance makes listening quite enjoyable. This is certainly a disc worth investigating.

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