This is the latest release by an ensemble whose debut CD was released some nine years ago. Most recently this ensemble released a fine recording featuring Simone Dinnerstein playing piano concertos by J. S. Bach and Philip Glass. This recording is focused on the virtuosity of this small string orchestra by focusing on some unusual but highly listenable pieces from the early twentieth century to the present.
The lovely cover art (by Bill Flynn) conjures images that evoke Picasso’s drawings of Igor Stravinsky conducting. The album evokes a feeling of an early twentieth century salon and makes the most of this rather small ensemble which counts 20 musicians on this release. The issue here seems to be quality musicianship exploring unusual but very listenable music.
The disc begins with the too little heard Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge (1937) by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). Bridge was one of Britten’s teachers and a fine composer as well. This is the piece that first brought Britten international recognition but it is not frequently played or recorded as one might expect. It is a very entertaining set of variations and one can only surmise that this ensemble will likely tackle some of Britten’s other early string orchestra pieces like the Simple Symphony (1934).
After that workout we are treated to another set of variations. This time by one Ethan Wood, a violinist with the ensemble. His contribution is a set of variations on the French song, “Ah vous dirais-je, Maman” (better known to some as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”). This little fantasy is billed as “a folk tale for 18 players based on characters created by W. A. Mozart”.
And, finally, we have a lively transcription of Sergei Prokofiev’s ” Vision Fugitives” Op. 22. Originally for piano, this string orchestra version is a unique but interesting idea. The ensemble handles this complex music well and this version provides a perspective on these little miniatures that will produce discussion among fanciers of the original piano versions.
All in all this is basically a pretty conservative program stylistically but the intelligent choices of repertoire and the wonderful execution make this a stand out release with incredible potential that will leave listeners waiting for their next release.