Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Virgil Thomson’s Cello Concerto “Rider on the Plains” is wholly marvelous, a bright, breezy, beautifully crafted piece that really deserves to enter the repertoire. I suppose its comparative brevity (20 minutes) counts against it, but the Saint-Saëns First Concerto isn’t any longer and it gets played all the time. The thematic material is recognizably “American”, and the formal treatment is clear, unfussy, and natural sounding. Charles Fussell’s Right River variations for cello and strings is similarly straightforward and expertly laid out, if a touch more self-consciously “modern”. It too would make a lovely addition to a chamber orchestra concert featuring ensemble principals (it only lasts about 11 minutes).

After the two larger works, cellist Emmanuel Feldman includes a selection of short pieces for violin and piano–five works from Thomson’s large series of musical “portraits”, and Two Ballades by Fussell, less interesting and appealing music than Right River. Indeed, if I have any quibble with this release, it is that the mixture of orchestral and chamber works, though coherent in theory, makes for a much less interesting second half of the program. Certainly this isn’t the fault of the performers, all of whom do very well. Feldman in particular plays with real panache and a warm, singing tone in the outer movements of Thomson’s concerto. He’s a joy, the sonics are terrific in all formats (SACD and normal stereo), and for the two orchestral pieces alone I can recommend this disc without reservation. [11/6/2006]

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

VIRGIL THOMSON - Cello Concerto "Rider on the Plains"; Four Portraits for Cello & Piano; A Portrait of Frederic James
CHARLES FUSSELL - Right River (Variations for Cello & String Orchestra); Two Ballades for Cello & Piano

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