Monday, April 1, 2013 Adolphus Hailstork 'is at his most patriotically and cinematically American here, as is big-voiced baritone Kevin Deas'

[Adolphus Hailstork: An American Port of Call; Naxos 8.559722 (2012)]

Adolphus C. Hailstork

Kevin Deas

Adolphus C. Hailstork is a prolific African American composer whose vocal and instrumental works are performed with great frequency. He was born on April 17, 1941 and is featured at
Adolphus HAILSTORK (b.1941)
Symphony no.1 (1988) [21:10]
Three Spirituals, for orchestra (2005) [8:17]
An American Port of Call, for orchestra (1985) [8:33]
Fanfare on Amazing Grace, for orchestra (2003) [3:32]
Whitman's Journey I - Launch out on Endless Seas, for baritone, chorus and orchestra (2005) [17:37]
Kevin Deas (baritone)
Virginia Symphony Chorus/Robert Shoup
Virginia Symphony Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
rec. L Douglas Wilder Performing Arts Center, Norfolk State University, Virginia, USA, 18 May 2011. DDD

Yet another pupil of the inimitable Nadia Boulanger, the unlikely-sounding Adolphus Hailstork may not be a familiar name. His music is so ear-friendly, modest yet consequential that popularity is surely only a matter of greater exposure. Hailstork's debut on Naxos - with the weighty Second and Third Symphonies (8.559295 - see review) - was an important start, but it has taken an all-too-long five years for this follow-up to appear. 

The varied selection of works featured here was, according to the information supplied, recorded on the same day in concert. This makes it an all-the-more impressive set of performances, particularly from the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, deftly marshalled by Naxos stalwart JoAnn Falletta. Sound quality is good, with just a hint of thinness at times. Whatever audience was present has been expertly edited out.
The lively, good-humoured concert overture An American Port of Call is probably the composer's best known work. It was inspired by his home town and performed by its dedicatee orchestra. The four-movement neo-Classical-ish First Symphony is strongly Coplandesque, with a dash of Stravinsky, and thus a work of considerable warmth and charm. The Three Spirituals - a jazzy Everytime I Feel the Spirit, the famous Kum Ba Yah and a Gershwin-like Oh Freedom - are even more strongly reminiscent of Copland. The short Fanfare on Amazing Grace is more appealing than its title may suggest, and instantly memorable.
The odd title of the final work is explained by the fact that it was originally conceived as the first movement of a set of three. Hailstork now recognises it as a standalone work, paying tribute, via Walt Whitman's love-it-or-loathe-it poetry, to the "adventurous spirit of all people setting out on the seas of life." Hailstork's score is delicately orchestrated and aptly uplifting. It is fair to say that he is at his most patriotically and cinematically American here, as is big-voiced baritone Kevin Deas. Texts are included in the booklet, although a sing-along would probably only appeal to some Americans.
For a risk-free dip into late-20th century orchestral waters, his music, like this recording, has many merits. Moreover, it is always heartening to see the stupendous musical heritage of 'dead white Europeans' embraced and advanced by someone who is 'none of the above'!


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