G Walker: Sinfonias Nos 4 & 5 etc (Cleveland/Welser-Möst)
Latonia Moore (soprano); Cleveland Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst (Cleveland Orchestra)
Sinfonias Nos 4 & 5; Antifonys; Lilacs*
*Latonia Moore (soprano); Cleveland Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst
Cleveland Orchestra TCO0005 (CD/SACD) 43:30 mins
Even as a nonagenarian, composer George Walker (1922-2018) was knocking on doors to get his work heard. Today, in the centennial year of Walker’s birth, his music is increasingly programmed. Four works feature in this celebratory recording by the Cleveland Orchestra, including the Pulitzer-prize winning Lilacs (1995), a four-movement work for voice and orchestra. Lilacs honours the pioneering tenor Roland Hayes (invoking one of the spirituals he popularised), and is based on Walt Whitman’s ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d’, which in turn remembers Abraham Lincoln. Soprano Latonia Moore imbues the often-atonal melismatic phrases with drama (particularly in the second and final stanza). The balance between soloist and orchestra is impressive throughout.
The agitated Antifonys (1968), a short piece for string orchestra, reflects the tumultuous context of its composition. Extended unison melodies contrast with pizzicato repeated notes, creating uneasy anticipation. This unrest continues into the later Sinfonias: No. 4 (‘Strands’), weaves its titular threads into a complex pattern that is disturbed two-thirds of the way through by a melody from the spiritual ‘There Is a Balm in Gilead’. Franz Welser-Möst leads the Cleveland Orchestra in a precise, march-like section that becomes less defined as the piece concludes. The subsequent Sinfonia (No. 5) picks off where No. 4 ends, extending the ethereal soundworld with additional percussion, including castanets. Tony Sias, CEO of Karamu House, the oldest African-American-run theatre in the US, narrates over the orchestra; the fragmented text eventually reveals hidden depths (‘the ports where men enslaved were beaten, chained, auctioned and bought’), bringing further tension.