For Brahms, Handel and Stravinsky, a 21st-Century Makeover

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Over a twenty-six-year career with the Seattle Symphony, which just ended last season, conductor Gerard Schwarz was known for championing American composers that others ignored. In one of his last projects he enlisted several composer friends to take short, well-known classic works and remold them for the 21st century. These seven “echoes” of earlier classics – spanning Brahms to Thelonius Monk – are collected on this new anthology. It's our Album of the Week.

Leading off the collection is Infernal, David Schiff's five-minute whirl through Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, which makes clever use of rock and West African rhythms and instruments and sounds a bit like West Side Story. Completely different is Bright Sheng's Black Swan, which is modeled after Brahms's Intermezzo No. 2 for piano and doesn’t stray too far from the original, capturing its serenity and autumnal tone.

On the other hand, David Stock's Plenty of Horn, based on Jeremiah Clarke's famous Prince of Denmark March, takes a more fragmented approach to its source material. The impressionistic Rubies by John Harbison is a romantic gloss on Thelonious Monk's "Ruby, My Dear" while Aaron Jay Kernis was the only composer represented with one of his own pieces, an orchestration of his ethereal string quartet Musica Celestis.

The recording closes with a work composed by Gerard Schwarz himself at the request of the Canadian Brass who premiered it at Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival. Schwarz, a former trumpet player, takes three movements from Handel's Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 9 and turns it into a vibrant concerto for brass quintet and orchestra.

All of these pieces were previously featured on a 2006 anthology issued by Hear Music, the Starbucks record label. Their sheer ingenuity makes this re-release more than welcome.

Echoes: Classic Works Transformed
Seattle Symphony
Gerard Schwarz, conductor
Naxos
Available at Arkivmusic.com