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CD Review: Works for Cello

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Alan Shulman, Works for Cello, 2010, Albany Records.
  • Alan Shulman, Works for Cello, 2010, Albany Records.

The name Alan Shulman (1915-2002) may strike a chord among readers with sharp memories: The Hudson cellist and composer was the leader of the New Friends of Rhythm, whose 1939-1947 Performances (Hep Jazz Records) was reviewed in the November 2007 issue of Chronogram. While that release ably chronicles the jazz-crossover music Shulman and his conservatory-trained Friends made during the height of the swing era, Works for Cello concentrates on the classical side from which the leader initially sprang.

Performed by cellist Wesley Baldwin, in duet with pianist Kevin Class and with the Hot Springs Music Festival Orchestra, the eight works here were written between 1938 and 1983 and strongly reflect Shulman's chief influences: Elgar, Hindemith (a sometime teacher), and Satie (see '38's Homage to Erik Satie). But on Kol Nidre (1970) and his Concerto for Violincello & Orchestra (1948), Shulman drew from the musical traditions of his Jewish roots. The haunting former piece, which was commissioned by the Metropolitan Synagogue of New York City, loosely references Bruch's Yom Kippur prayer-inspired composition of the same name. With its three extended movements, the ambitious concerto, dedicated to the then-newly founded nation of Israel, stands as the disc's central opus and is perhaps Shulman's greatest work. Splashed with colorful arrangements and wrought with yearning tension (the version here was recorded live in 2009), the work elicited a postcard of approval from iconic cellist Pablo Casals following its contemporary premiere. High praise, indeed. www.albanyrecords.com.

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