Classical CD Reviews

HAILSTORK: ‘An American Port of Call’ = Symphony No. 1, Three Spirituals, An American Port of Call, Fanfare on ‘Amazing Grace’, Whitman’s Journey: 1. Launch out on Endless Seas – Kevin Deas, bar., Virginia Sym. Chorus, Virginia Sym. Orch., JoAnn Falletta – Naxos

An important American composer and orchestra you should know!

Published on November 9, 2012

HAILSTORK: ‘An American Port of Call’ = Symphony No. 1, Three Spirituals, An American Port of Call, Fanfare on ‘Amazing Grace’, Whitman’s Journey: 1. Launch out on Endless Seas – Kevin Deas, bar., Virginia Sym. Chorus, Virginia Sym. Orch., JoAnn Falletta – Naxos

ADOLPHUS HAILSTORK: ‘An American Port of Call’ = Symphony No. 1, Three Spirituals, An American Port of Call, Fanfare on ‘Amazing Grace’, Whitman’s Journey: 1. Launch out on Endless Seas – Kevin Deas, bar., Virginia Sym. Chorus, Virginia Sym. Orch., JoAnn Falletta – Naxos Records 8.559722, 59:08 [6/26/12] ****:

Adolphus Hailstork is truly one of this country’s most important and respected composers and if you have never heard of him or his music; this album is a very good place to start.

I first became familiar with his music with his landmark orchestral work, Celebration, nearly forty years ago and, again, with his Symphony No. 2 from the Detroit Symphony in 2006. He is a graduate of Michigan State University and one of the long list of very talented people who studied composition with the iconic Nadia Boulanger among others. He has been Professor Emeritus at Virginia Dominion University for many years and continues to teach.

His music is tonal, exciting, sometimes brash; very “accessible” and sounds quite ‘American.’ This collection of works illustrates the point very well, indeed.

His Symphony No. 1 dates from 1988 and follows a standard four-movement symphony form. This is a very fine work with wonderful section writing and wind solos throughout and has a very distinctive sound. It will remind some of Schuman or Piston in places but Hailstork has a melodic thesaurus that draws upon American folk and traditional materials without ever directly quoting anything. I found every bit of this piece to be attention-getting and very rewarding but I especially enjoyed the subtle, elegant and somewhat “Copland-esque” Adagio. The final Rondo: Vivace bears some of these same traits. This is a strong vibrant work that – just like his Symphony No. 2 – deserves to be played more often.

The Three Spirituals for Orchestra are just what the title implies. This is a buoyant and uplifting concert suite of arrangements of three traditional American spirituals; originally set as an organ work. The songs in question are “Every Time I Feel the Spirit”, “Kum Ba Yah” and “Oh, Freedom.”  This is a very pleasant and uplifting work and treats the song material in a fairly straight forward work with orchestrations and a feel that recall Gershwin, including a lovely English horn solo at the beginning of “Kum Ba Yah.”

An American Port of Call is a brief highly energetic work that was written for the Virginia Symphony in 1985. It exists in the same sonata-allegro form as many of Hailstork’s works and effectively evokes the bustle, crowdedness and occasional risks of work in a large American port; like Newport, Virginia (which I have visited and it is a fascinating place.) The vocabulary is tonal with some dramatic use of stridency and some very attractive blues and jazz-inflected solos throughout.  Similarly, the Fanfare on ‘Amazing Grace’ is a brief and engaging exploration of the title work. I have heard many of the composer’s band and wind ensemble works, too, and he does excel at a wide variety of fairly succinct and very attractive concert works.

This very rewarding disc concludes with the broad, solemn and moving Whitman’s Journey – Launch Out on Endless Seas for chorus, baritone soloist and orchestra. Originally intended to be the first of three movements in a large setting of poetry from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, this is now the one poem the composer kept in the projected setting. This is one of Whitman’s more buoyant texts, the analogy of the “Endless Seas” being the poet’s optimistic exuberant call to boldly tackle all that life has to offer (in sharp contrast to some of his more serious and introspective output, such as “Specimen Days”.)  Hailstork’s music is similarly panoramic, reaching and – again – ‘American’.  It is a wonderful work performed quite well here with special commendation to the tight harmonies and diction of the Virginia Symphony Chorus and to the big warm sound of baritone Kevin Deas.

I have been a fan of Adolphus Hailstork’s music for a long time. He is a talented composer and a warm, friendly man. His music should be attractive – and known – to a wide audience. It is well-crafted and so American. This disc also showcases the appreciable skills of the Virginia Symphony and Chorus under the direction of one of America’s best known female conductors, Jo Ann Falletta, whose tight leadership is comparable to any conductor.

I strongly recommend this disc!  What a great way to get to know a composer, an orchestra and a conductor who all deserve to be known even more. Kudos again to Naxos for making such music available!

—Daniel Coombs




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