Audiophile Audition
Mel Martin
March 25, 2015

This disc is a most welcome retrospective of American composer Irving Fine, who died in 1962. Fine was a member of the so-called “Boston Six” or “Boston School.” Other members of the Boston School included Arthur Berger, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss, and Harold Shapero.

Fines’ compositions include a violin sonata; a string quartet; Fantasia for String Trio; Music for Piano; Partita for Wind Quintet; Toccata Concertante for Orchestra; Notturno for Strings and Harp; Serious Song, subtitled a “Lament for String Orchestra”, included on this disc; Diversions for Piano and Orchestra; and the Symphony written in 1962, which premiered at Tanglewood less than two weeks before his untimely death following a heart attack. The Symphony is also included in this retrospective. There is also an active Irving Fine Society, which champions his works.

This disc is performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), which specializes in performing and recording under-appreciated 20th century composers. The works recorded here run from the 1940s to the 1962 Symphony, and are all worth a listen. The orchestral playing is accomplished, and Fine has a unique voice that is well captured in these performances. I particularly enjoyed Blue Towers, written in 1959. It was originally written for chorus and solo piano, but I like it as a full orchestral work. It’s joyful and animated.

The Symphony, Fine’s last work before he died of a heart attack, is mature and worthy of wider recognition. It is also a spirited work, with wide dynamic range. It’s played with exuberance and gusto. The recording here is first rate, and I’m happy to see the engineering equals the quality of the music. It’s a realistic recording, and individual instruments are captured with precision but without excessive or distracting highlighting. The stereo soundstage has a solid image, and the rear channels are used for a hint of ambiance. The low end is particularly clean, and the low strings have a nice bite without being overpowering.

It’s wonderful to have this excellent program of Fine’s works. They are superbly played and professionally recorded. If you like contemporary music this is a very worthy purchase. It’s also nice to get the extended dynamics on this hybrid surround SACD.