S022585 Reviews

S022585 A Royal Invitation

102 Fanfare January/February 1999 by Benjamin Pernick

ARGENTO A Royal Invitation or Homage to the Queen of Tonga
MENOTTI Sebastian Suite
COPLAND Old American Songs: Excerpts

Edward Polochick, cond; Concert Artists of Baltimore
SONORA S022585CD (62:00)

Concert Artists of Baltimore is a group comprising a chamber orchestra and vocal ensemble. With this CD of three light but colorful, tuneful, and hummable American works, they make an auspicious debut recording.

A Royal Invitation or Homage to the Queen of` Tonga is Dominick Argento's musical narrative of Queen Salote of Tonga's 1953 journey to London for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In five movements Argento describes (among other things) a British emissary preparing to issue and deliver invitations to the coronation, his travels from London to Tonga, and Salote's taking lessons to learn the fox-trot. Her arrival in London and subsequent appearance wearing leopard skins, as well as her "enthusiastic, if not wholly successful, efforts to conform to Western Protocol," assured her popularity with the British and resulted in some ofArgento's wittiest, most charming music. A Royal Invitation... is scored for a Haydn-sized orchestra, is in a Neoclassical, Stravinskian syntax, and evokes thoughts of both Bernstein and Malcolm Arnold. Gian Carlo Menotti's seven-movement Sebastian suite has outlasted the ballet from which it was drawn. Lyrical, melodic, and Italianate, it is surprisingly effective in its eclectic, even derivative blending of Respighian orchestration (think here of The Birds, Ancient Airs and Dances, or even Brazilian impressions, but not the Roman Trilogy) and mild exoticism with Stravinskian Neoclassicism. Echoes of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet in Street Fight, the satirical grotesqueries of Cortege, and the eccentricities and surprising twist in the Courtesan 's Dance remain in the memory.

The vocal ensemble joins the orchestra in six of Copland's 10 Old American Songs as arranged for chorus by Irving Fine (five) and Raymond Wilding-White (one). These folk songs are ideally suited to the smallish chamber chorus of 31, and this appropriately intimate, rustic performance is preferable to the one by the considerably larger Mormon Tabernacle Choir (with Tilson Thomas) on CBS. The six songs are: The Boatmen's Dance, Long Time Ago, Simple Gifts, I Bought Me a Cat, At the River, and Ching-a-Ring Chaw.

All three works are stylishly and idiomatically performed by the orchestra, and are given appropriate tempos and well-sprung rhythms by conductor Edward Polochick. Sonora's sound is lively and bright, with strong presence.

If you're looking for a Message of Great Import or The Latest Trend, stay away. All others, enjoy.


MENOTTI: Sebastian Suite;
ARGENTO: A Royal Invitation;
COPLAND: Old American Songs

Concert Artists of Baltimore/ Edward Polochick
Sonora 22585 62 minutes

This is a very nice disc, even if the cover is more suitable for a collection of medieval religious music. It's extremely well recorded, with especially strong timpani, though someone has lopped off the first millisecond of Sebastian and a few edits are noticeable. I've liked the Menotti since I first heard it with Mitropoulos conducting the Robin Hood Deli Orchestra on Columbia 78s. It's colorful and shows Menotti's lyric gifts to perfection. This version is the finest currently available. The orchestra, despite its size, sounds quite full; and Polochick is both vital and romantic.

Argento's colorful, amusing piece is a representation of the Queen of Tonga's appearance at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II dressed in Leopard skins and creating quite a stir among the dignitaries! In five parts, it uses the expected 'Rule Britannia' but not in the expected way.

The Copland consists of choral-orchestral arrangements of six of the two sets of 10; 'The Boatman's Dance', 'Long Time Ago', 'Simple Gifts', 'I Bought Me a Cat' and 'Ching-a-Ring Chaw' by Irving Fine, 'At the River' by R. Wilding-White. If memory serves, both sets were recorded by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, too. But chorus and orchestra are too heavy for these "folk" songs, smothering them under a lush, inappropriate blanket of sonority. I can't complain about the Baltimoreans; they do their best with the material. But I'll stick with William Warfield or Sherrill Milnes. I loved this one.

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