The American Masters: Barber, Corigliano, Bates

Anne Akiko Meyers / Leonard Slatkin / London Symphony Orchestra

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The American Masters: Barber, Corigliano, Bates Review

by James Manheim

The American Masters may be an invidious title considering that two of the three works here are world premieres, and one composer, 1977-born Mason Bates, is hardly a household word. But the three composers represent a chain of influence and a thread in American music that has gradually emerged as critically important: tonal in orientation, Romantic in aesthetic, and yet not really describable with the word "conservative." The booklet notes, well worth reading for his take on the story of the genesis of Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto, Op. 14 (compare it with the Wikipedia version to which he refers), are by John Corigliano, who was an informal student of Barber and a teacher to Bates. Corigliano's own contribution is the small Lullaby for Natalie, dedicated to the infant daughter of violinist Anne Akiko Meyers. It's placed between the two major works (not at the close as the booklet says), both of which are well worth hearing. Meyers' reading of the Barber concerto is spot on in the difficult finale, and her 1741 Guarneri violin is magnificently warm in the lyrical opening movements. For conductor Leonard Slatkin, leading the London Symphony Orchestra, this is bread and butter. But the biggest find is Bates' Violin Concerto, composed in 2012. This composer has been known for incorporating aspects of techno music into concert compositions. Here he sticks with the acoustic symphony orchestra, but the influence is easy to hear (start with the way the violin is treated in the finale for those sampling). The work's program is related to fossils of dinosaurs and birds, and to the links between them, and the middle movement represents a German lake where key fossils were found. Meyers' work here at the very top of the violin's capabilities is worth the price of admission in itself, and ultimately the album lives up to its title.

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