Saturday, November 30, 2013

'George Walker: Great American Orchestral Works, Vol. 4' Includes Albert R. Lee, Tenor, in 'Lilacs for Voice and Orchestra' on Albany Troy1430

Albany Records Troy1430 (2013)

Albert Rudolph Lee, D.M.A.

The American classical pianist and composer George Walker, 91, distinguished himself at a young age and has been honored with numerous awards in his long and productive career. In 2012 he received the Aaron Copland Award of ASCAP.

George Walker has a website at and has been featured as a highly accomplished Composer of African Descent at since the website's early days. He has also been the subject of numerous posts at, as his works have been frequently performed and recorded. In addition to releases of complete recordings of his works, compilation CDs have sometimes paired his works with those of other composers.

A recent example is his first recording on the Delos label, Our American Roots: Gershwin, Barber, Walker, Copland; Emmanuel Feldman, cello; Joy Cline Phinney, piano; Delos 3449 (2013). George Walker is represented on the disc by Sonata for Cello and Piano (1957).

The Albany Records release George Walker: Great American Orchestral Works, Vol. 4, Troy1430, is comprised of four works, all conducted by Ian Hobson. Sinfonia No. 4 (Strands) and Antifonys for String Orchestra are performed by Sinfonia Varsovia. Sinfonia da Camera performs Lilacs for Voice and Orchestra, with Albert R. Lee, tenor, and Movements for Cello and Orchestra, with cellist Dmitry Kousov.

The liner notes by the composer tell us Sinfonia No. 4 (Strands) was co-commissioned by the New Jersey Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony, the Pittsburgh Symphony and the National Symphony. The New Jersey Symphony gave the premiere performance in March, 2012, the composer writes, and the other three orchestras included the composition in their 2012-2013 seasons.

Sinfonia No. 4 (Strands) is written in a single movement, with a length of 10:45. It makes use of excerpts from the spirituals There Is A Balm In Gilead and Roll, Jordan, Roll. George Walker writes that Antifonys for String Orchestra (7:08) “...was composed in 1967 for a double string quartet, seven winds and percussion. It received its premiere at the Composers Conference at Bennington College in Vermont in 1967.”

With respect to the third work on the recording, the liner notes tell us “Lilacs for Voice and Orchestra received the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1996.” George Walker was the first composer of African descent to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Music during his lifetime. The notes explain that the Boston Symphony commissioned the composition “...for a concert in honor of the tenor, Roland Hayes who had made his American orchestral debut with that orchestra.”

The Walt Whitman poem When Lilacs Last In The Door-yard Bloom'd is the source of the text of the song. The liner notes remind us that the poem was “...a poignant reflection on the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.” The vocalist is the tenor Albert Rudolph Lee, D.M.A.,, who recently received his doctoral degree from the University of Florida. Dr. Lee is on the Voice Faculty of the University of Nevada in Reno. He has received critical praise for performances with numerous prominent ensembles, including the Opera Theater of Saint Louis, Palm Beach Opera, Opera Theater of Pittsburgh and Berkshire Opera Company, his website tells us.

The recording concludes with a very recent work, Movements for Cello and Orchestra, which has three movements and was finished in Spring, 2012. The cellist is Dmitri Kousov. The composer explains: “Its three movements incorporate significantly revised material from an earlier work. The ascending motive that begins the introduction of the first movement becomes an integral and unifying connection within the movement.” He later writes: “Figurations in the solo cello part are interrupted by explosive passages in the brass.”

“Harp and strings” precede the principal theme of the second movement, the notes indicate. The final paragraph of the liner notes begins: “The vigorous beginning of the third movement employs the identical intervallic content heard in the opening of the first movement.”

The latest Albany Records recording continues to expand George Walker's recorded repertoire of modern classical music with a distinctive sound which is both accessible and rewarding to the listener. 

Disclosure:  A review copy of this recording was provided by the record label.

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