by Paul Allaer (Cincinnati)
January 7, 2011
Since Paavo Jarvi became the Cincinnati Symphony's Music Director in September, 2001, the Telearc label had issued 2 albums a year of the CSO directed by Maestro Jarvi, pretty much like clockwork, one in the Fall, and one in the Spring. Regretfully, the Telearc label stopped releasing new albums at the end of 2009 and so the release of Holt's "The Planets" in October, 2009 was the 16th and last in the series. The CSO decided to take its fate into its own hands and has decided to self-release albums on the newly-founded CSO Media label. This is the first release.
"American Portraits" (6 tracks; 76 min.) is a curious and daring first release. The album is a collection of various music pieces that Paavo Jarvi selected over the years composed by young (and hence contemporary, the oldest one having been born in 1962) and mostly unknown American composers. The album is mistitled and really should be "Modern American Portraits" as it features mainly "contemporary" classical music. There are just 6 pieces on here, most of them long pieces. Please note that this is not a "new" recording, instead they are compiled from CSO perfomrances at Music Hall between 2003 and 2007. My favorite one is the 17 min. piece "Halycon Sun" by composer Jonathan Bailey Holland. I also quite liked Charles Coleman's 15 min. "Deep Woods" (one of 2 compositions by Coleman on here). But the rest is a challenge (for me anyway).
In all, I am just baffled by this release. This is not an easily accessible album for the most part, and not likely to be a commercial success. This being the first independently released CSO album, why would it take a chance/challenge like this? The only answer I believe (but that is just speculation on my part) is that the soon-departing CSO musical director Paavo Jarvi really insisted on this. Indeed, after 10 years, Jarvi is leaving as the CSO Maestro at the end of the current season (May, 2011). Challenging times lay ahead for the CSO, not the least of which is to find a replacement for Paavo Jarvi, who in his 10 years heading the CSO took the orchestra to highs never seen before. Meanwhile, this album should get accolades for featuring contemporary and unknown American composers. That aside, this album is "art", but not sure it's pleasure.