MusicWeb International
Brian Wilson
March 2, 2015

To the list of those such as Toccata who fill the gaps of neglected music, I’m happy to add the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Some of their releases have been too avant-garde for me, but there’s nothing about these recordings of the music of Irving Fine to scare the horses. In fact much of the music is as direct in its appeal as fellow American composers Aaron Copland – Fine’s older contemporary – and Leonard Bernstein. There’s plenty of online information about the composer from The Irving Fine Society and elsewhere and the site enthusiastically reviewed the Delos album of Fine’s music.

The informative booklet – freely available here – speaks of Fine’s gift for lyricism and quotes Aaron Copland's and Virgil Thomson’s approval of his ‘keenly conceived sonorities’ and ‘unusual melodic grace’. The cover art – a portion of a painting by Grace Hartigan, reproduced in full in the booklet, ‘modern’ yet recognisably within the mainstream tradition – gives a clue to the nature of Fine’s music. If you like the one, you will probably like the other.

It may well be that Fine’s music has been neglected for the very reason that I find it attractive. Listen to the closing movement of Diversions, The Red Queen’s Gavotte (track 10) and you’ll see that it’s too clearly within the mainstream tradition for the current orthodoxy of 1960: a trendier composer would have broken up the dance even more than Ravel does at the end of La Valse.

Not surprisingly, the Symphony of 1962, composed shortly before Fine’s death, is the meatiest work here, though even that is no tougher than, say Bliss’s Colour Symphony from forty years earlier. Though it’s by no means imitative, the second movement, Capriccio (track 12), combines elements of Stravinsky’s neo-classical style with Ravel’s jazz-influenced music.

There is not too much competition in the UK catalogue for this new album, with just two recordings wholly devoted to his music: one of chamber and vocal music from the Library of Congress on Bridge 9123 and a Delos recording featuring the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra/Joel Spiegelman in Blue Towers, Diversions, Symphony and Toccata Concertante, as on BMOP, plus an arrangement of a piano work, Music for Orchestra (DE 3139: review).

I listened to and enjoyed some of the works on that Delos recording courtesy of Qobuz. Choice between the two can be safely made on whether you prefer the orchestral arrangement of Music for Piano (Delos) or Notturno and Serious Song (BMOP). Music for Piano/Orchestra is attractive but I’d go for the new recording.

Though the recording is available as an SACD, I listened to a press review mp3 download. Albeit that it’s only at 192kb/s, the sound is good enough for me to be confident that the SACD will sound first-rate. I’m all the more certain of that because I was also able to listen to it in better sound as streamed from Qobuz.

As with the neglected music which Toccata has been bringing us, this is not an urgent recommendation, but I have greatly enjoyed hearing it and I believe that you will too. My review of another BMOP recording, of music by Elena Ruehr (BMOP/SOUND 1039), is in the pipeline as I write; it should be online by the time that you read this. It’s powerful music in a modern idiom which nevertheless contains an appealing beauty and I enjoyed that too.