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Classical

Dvorak and America

Performed by Baritone/narrator Kevin Deas, PostClassical(CQ) Ensemble, Univ. of Texas Chamber Singers, soloists, conductor Angel Gil-Ordonez

[Naxos]

3.5 stars

In April 2012 JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic gave the regional premiere of “Hiawatha Melodrama,” a narration of parts of Longfellow’s poem “The Song of Hiawatha” intermixed with music of Dvorak. It was the evolving brainchild of the noted author and musical entrepreneur Joseph Horowitz, who says that this recording represents the “final” version of his vision. It consists of the narration of a condensed version of Longfellow’s complete poem flavored by excerpts largely from Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony,” a more extended version of the earlier Buffalo presentation. What Horowitz seeks is a musico-dramatic statement of the cultural temperament of America in the late 19th century when Dvorak was living in New York as director of the National Conservatory of Music (now the Juilliard School). He had been offered that post with the hope that he would be able to forge a truly American voice in concert music. He realized that Hiawatha was embedded in the American soul, and soon learned that the rhythms of Native American Music and soulful message of African-American spirituals had much to offer, as revealed in his own subsequent compositions.

This new recording includes not only the ‘Hiawatha Melodrama,” but also examples of American-influenced compositions such as his Violin Sonatina in G, his “Humoresques,” Op. 101, his “American Suite,” Op. 98 and the ubiquitous quasi- spiritual; “Goin’ Home,” drawn from the slow movement of his “New World Sym phony” by his student William Arms Fisher. As a postscript the recording also offers three works by American composer and Native American music scholar Arthur Farwell, of which the premiere of his 1937choral version of “Pawnee Horses” is a rhythmically stunning discovery. The performances are unfailingly excellent, with Kevin Deas (the only holdover from the 2012 Buffalo concert) deserves special mention for his mellifluous yet passionate narration of the Hiawatha texts, which are provided in the liner notes. This is not background music, and deserves your full attention, including reading Horowitz’s fluent but comprehensive program notes.

– Herman Trotter