CD Review by Barry L. Cohen in magazine still called The Music Connoisseur (v.3 #3, pp.17-18) of
THE WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT BICENTENNIAL CONCERT. Songs by 13 composers based on Bryant poems. Sponsored by the Long Island Composers Alliance (LICA), Friends of Bryant Library and Key Bank. Performed live at BryantLibrary, Roslyn, NY, Oct. 30, 1994. Capstone, CPS-8623.
Recording projects such as this special release play up the division of classical record producers into two distinct groups. In one camp are the companies that market their products along carefully tested lines, the economic counterpart of political leaders who make all of their moves according to the polls. On the other side are the generally smaller but dedicated enterprises that support musical experimentation, the unknown, the untested, in a word, the stuff of selective appeal. Here Richard Brooks' Capstone Records and the Long Island Composers Alliance (LICA) have pooled their efforts and ideas to form an effective collaboration.
Does this mean the Bryant concert stands as a great event? No, but that's beside the point. The fact that the concert was a musical tribute to a 19th century poet, that it came about through an invitation to composers to set already exalted words to music (an often presumptuous endeavor), that the occasion was strictly a local affair and that the performances sounded unrehearsed further attests to the courage of Capstone/LICA to go ahead with this venture at all costs. They hired Norman Greenspan to do the recording, so a good effort was made to capture the music accurately, to balance the forces so words could be heard and to elicit a real sense of the spirit of the occasion.
The liner notes provide some background on the occasion and on the library's role in it. This CD is the first ever "made from the recording of a live concert in a Iong Island public library." One can carp with the lack of bios and the fact that the names of the accompanists and selection judges have to be read with the aid of a magnifier. There is no hint as to how the wining entries were chosen. We simply are told Dr. Akmal Parwez (for "Song of the Prairies" based on "These Prairies Glow with Flowers") was judged the winner and that Matthew Marullo ("Mutation") and Frederick Frahm ("Future Life" received honorable mentions.
Those winning entries are not among our particular favorites, though they certainly do not lack pleasing lyricism. We find a bit more dramatic intensity in Judi Silvano's "The Nature of Life" (Thanatopsis"), Joseph Pehrson's "Thanatopsis," George Selbst's "The Death of the Flowers," Leo Kraft's "October 1864 ("My Autumn Walk), and Leonard Lehrman's "The Journey of Life." Incidentally, some of those composers just mentioned are cited as judges. There is thoroughly fine singing by soprano Helene Williams and by tenor Ronald Edwards in the Kraft. Leonard Lehrman is the pianist in all but the Pehrson (performed by that composer). It is interesting to hear how two composers approach the same Bryant poem with entirely different musical sentiments, itself a subtle tribute to the adventurous nature of this uneven but worthy project.