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A Crowd Pleaser

and a symphony
by Lee Actor,
heard by

Albany    TROY1017

Lee Actor: Violin Concerto. © 2008 Albany Records

Composer Benjamin Lees once told me the only legitimate role of a reviewer is to publicize the fact that a new recording is available and then get out of the way. If pressed, he'd probably grant a bit more scope, but the idea does suggest to me a way to begin this review.

Listen -- Lee Actor: Meditation (Concerto for Violin and Orchestra)
(track 2, 0:00-1:39) © 2008 Albany Records

If you like that melody from the middle movement of Lee Actor's new violin concerto, read on; if you don't, you can probably skip to a review of the latest by Birtwistle.

The piece is a giant step forward for Actor. If it gets the concert performances it deserves, it will surely be a crowd pleaser. The first movement is a thorough working out of a relatively small amount of melodic material introduced initially by the orchestra.

Listen -- Lee Actor: Proclamation (Concerto for Violin and Orchestra)
(track 1, 0:00-1:12) © 2008 Albany Records

These melodic and rhythmic elements are preserved as they move to the violin and through varied modulations and orchestral treatments. Transformations include a waltz that appears about half way through the substantial movement. (The first movement is over 16 minutes in length, roughly half the duration of the entire piece. Though it could be tighter, it is so clearly heartfelt that it is forgiven.)

The rondo-like third movement brings the work to a rousing conclusion. Here's the main theme in an exclamation-point race for home.

Listen -- Lee Actor: Exhilaration (Concerto for Violin and Orchestra)
(track 3, 5:27-7:15) © 2008 Albany Records

Pip Clarke's passionate style is an ideal match for this hyper-romantic concerto, and the piece is dedicated to her.

Actor's second symphony also represents progress. His first is worth listening to, but dependent on melodic elements not quite strong enough to justify their continuous reworking. The latest effort has a more satisfying variety of material and displays a surer hand in development. The concluding third movement, with its driving and joyful ostinatos, is the highlight.

Listen -- Lee Actor: Allegro Molto Vivace (Symphony No 2)
(track 6, 4:01-5:46) © 2008 Albany Records

Since Actor's persistent rhythms are often among the highlights of his work, it's appropriate for him to try his hand at a percussion concerto. The resulting piece is upbeat and entertaining. Here the main theme is tossed from winds to timpani to strings.

Listen -- Lee Actor: Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra
(track 7, 0:03-1:23) © 2008 Albany Records

Kirk Trevor, as in his earlier recording of Actor's music, leads the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra in assured and idiomatic performances.

Those demanding more adventurous or obscure fare may look askance, but most listeners will love this release.

Copyright © 8 December 2008 Ron Bierman, San Diego, USA




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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular series of shorter CD reviews