Ned Rorem's Literary Inclination at Work in 'Pilgrims'
Ned Rorem: Pilgrims for String Orchestra; Flute Concerto; Violin Concerto. Philippe Quint, violin; Jeffrey Khaner, flute. Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, José Serebrier, cond. (Naxos American Classics)?
Equally at home with words and music, Ned Rorem (b. 1923) is most famous for the genre that combines these talents: his songs. But he has also written numerous instrumental works (not to mention a notoriously frank multivolume diary). In the two concertos recorded here, he indulges his literary inclination by giving their six movements fancifully descriptive titles. The first two works are premiere recordings; all three are predominantly tonal, lyrical, and calm, punctuated by some restless, agitated sections. Their most arresting element is the skillful orchestration and the imaginative use of instrumental colors.
"Pilgrims" (1958), whose title does not refer to America's Founding Fathers but to a Biblical quote (Hebrews 11:13), is slow and sonorous. It opens with dissonant tutti chords and features stratospheric trills and lush, passionate melodies.
The Violin Concerto (1985) begins with a timpani crash that recurs repeatedly to interrupt serene singing lines. Slow, lyrical passages alternate with busy, running, aggressive ones. The woodwinds sing, the soloist converses with the orchestra. Philippe Quint plays his difficult part with effortless virtuosity and with tone that is gorgeous in all registers, radiant in the stratosphere, warmly luxurious on the low strings.
The orchestra revels in the contrasting sound effects and gives the soloists fine, empathetic support.