Super Sowerby from Cedille

Review by: David Hurwitz

Sowerby

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

This is a delightful, even astonishing release. It contains early works by Leo Sowerby, the most popular composer of church music in the 20th century USA. The two largest items here were composed for Paul Whiteman’s (of Rhapsody in Blue fame) jazz band. They are extraordinarily appealing. The first, called Synconata, is a single movement “overture” full of memorable ideas. It may not be as melodically distinctive as Gershwin, who was a great song-writer first and foremost, but it certainly passes the time entertainingly.

This is even more the case with the Symphony for Jazz Orchestra, given the eyebrow-raising title “Monotony” (!). Don’t worry. The music is anything but. The title comes from the original circumstances of its first performances, as a sort of theatrical art piece featuring a huge metronome front and center. Both of these scores had to be reconstructed by Andy Baker for the present disc, and he inspires his musicians to give loving, dedicated interpretations, captured in perfectly balanced, tactile sonics. Even without the other pieces on the disc–all but one world premieres–this would be worth acquiring.

However, the remaining items are much more than mere makeweights. Sowerby’s First String Quartet is a substantial work in three movements. The idiom is self-consciously “American,” full of modal, folk-like themes and zesty rhythms. Although the movements get longer as the work progresses, the music becomes increasingly lively and the entire structure, however unconventional, works extremely well. The Avalon String Quartet had to work just as hard as Any Baker to bring the piece to performance, but the effort was certainly worth it. The two additional works, Tramping Tune for quartet, piano and double bass, and the charmingly lyrical serenade for string quartet, round out this compelling and beautifully assembled collection. Truly a major discovery.



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Recording Details:

Album Title: LEO SOWERBY: PAUL WHITEMAN COMMISSIONS
Reference Recording: None

  • SOWERBY, LEO:
    Syncronata (for Jazz Orchestra); Serenade for String Quartet; String Quartet in D minor; Tramping Tune for Piano and Strings; Symphony for Jazz Orchestra
  • Winston Choi (piano); Alexander Hanna (double bass)
  • Andy Baker Orchestra, Andrew Baker (cond.)
    Avalan String Quartet


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