American Music for Flute, Voice & Strings



















Budapest Camerata


Adrian Sunshine, conductor


Carole Wilson, mezzo-soprano • William Wittig, flute






Ronald Perera, born on Christmas Day, 1941, is Elsie Irwin Sweeney Professor of Music at Smith College. His compositions include operas, song cycles, chamber, choral and orchestral music, and several works that combine instruments or voices with electronic sounds. One of his best known pieces, The Outermost House, is also recorded for Albany (Troy 314). When one thinks of Perera's music, one almost invariably remembers his treatment of texts, chosen from a wide variety of authors: Sappho, Shakespeare, Bradford, Melville and others, many of them American. His non-operatic themes, as any perusal of his titles reveals, tend to gravitate toward the sea and its history, and, as is the case with the songs recorded here, to ruminations of the past, often pleasant ones whose moods break into the present in the form of memory. His operas, The Yellow Wallpaper and S. have both enjoyed imaginative productions at Smith College, the former having also been produced in New York by the Manhattan School of Music. The latter is scheduled to be produced by Boston Lyric Opera during the 2003-04 season. He is recorded on the Albany, CRI, SCI and Opus One labels.


Vocal music has always been one of Perera's major preoccupations, his Five Summer Songs on Poems of Emily Dickinson being one of ten of his compositions for solo voice accompanied by piano or by small ensembles. Summer has been a favorite subject of composers from Vivaldi to the present, Gershwin and Barber, of course, coming first to mind for their invocations of the season in America. The music that reflects the season in the Five Summer Songs dwells, as one would expect, on the pastoral, indeed, on the idyllic season we are inclined to make of summer, at least in the imagination. And as we find out, Perera's title is a subtle one, for the season is elusive. The songs begin with the simplest of affecting utterances, one that would invite the voice of summer in, were it not for its being a New England spring, the last word of Dickinson's poem being crucial here. The fleeting subject of the second song is never named but beautifully handled by poet and composer. Summer strives, a little off stage in the third song, then does its part to make a prairie, albeit in 5/8 time, in the fourth. Before we've had much of it at all, it sets in the west in the last song, with a broad spiritual expansion. The language of the Five Summer Songs is clear, direct and transparent, in keeping with the qualities of the poet's jewel-like miniatures. Originally written for medium voice and piano between 1969 and 1972, the set of five songs was intended as a present for the composer's mother, a gifted amateur singer, in honor of her 60th birthday. The composer made this version of the Five Summer Songs for Edwin London to perform with the Cleveland Chamber Symphony. It is published by E. C. Schirmer Music Company and is assigned to ASCAP.


Donald Wheelock (b.1940) is Irwin and Pauline Alper Glass Professor of Music at Smith College, where he has been a member of the music faculty since 1974. His teachers include Edgar Curtis, Kenneth Leighton, Quincy Porter and Yehudi Wyner. His works include four string quartets, two symphonies, many works for solo instruments, eleven song cycles and many larger ensemble and orchestral works. He is unable to resist composing for strings in just about any form, and a recent infatuation with the symphony may continue indefinitely into the future. His works can be heard on Albany, Gasparo, Harmonia Mundi and New Ariel recordings.


The Chamber Symphony was composed in 1986 for Philipp Naegele and the Smith College Chamber Orchestra, a small string ensemble comprised mostly of students. The orchestra it calls for includes at least eight violins, three violas, three cellos and bass, although the work is designed to be equally suitable for a larger complement of strings. Its general demeanor is lighthearted.


As is often the case within any composer's output, wisps of musical ideas of one piece are liable to migrate into the next, certainly the case here. In retrospect, the Chamber Symphony seems to have served as a kind of study piece for the third string quartet, a much more serious and involved work in five movements (also issued on Albany Records, Troy 139). The first movements of these works share not only aspects of musical character, but melodic figures indigenous to 6/8 time. The form of the Chamber Symphony, as its title implies, is classical in nature, with some of the principal material of the opening moderato movement returning in the playfully exuberant finale. Its two inner movements include a light-hearted scherzo, played entirely pizzicato, and a somber set of harmonic variations on a chromatic, chorale-like theme. All but one movement uses, as do many string orchestra works of the Baroque and Modern eras, solo passages alternating with those from the full ensemble. The pull of tonality is evident, not only at the triadic conclusion of each movement, but within its lines and harmonies, although admittedly, there are areas where the chromaticism nearly overpowers the thrust toward a tonic. Even the momentum to the final chord, a D-flat major triad, is deceptive, having been arrived at more from a process of elimination than from the more conventional inevitability of tonal return.


Edwin London, born in Philadelphia in 1929 and known primarily as a composer and conductor, began his musical life as a player of the French horn, his teachers in performance and composition including Gunther Schuller, Luigi Dallapiccola and Darius Milhaud. Like two other composers and one of the performers on this recording, he has a connection with Smith College, having taught there for most of the 60s. Since then he has taught at the University of Illinois and at Cleveland State University, where he founded the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, the award-winning ensemble renowned for its enthusiastic performances of the works of living composers. Indeed, as this recording was being made, it was announced that he had won the Ditson award from Columbia University for “Conductor of the year 2001.” Two of London's other works are recorded for Albany Records: una novella della sera primavera (Troy 298) and Before the World was Made (Troy 208).


London's music, like Ives's, exhibits a variety of musical impulses, from the starkly serious to the blatantly humorous and unorthodox. Its wit is particularly apt to show itself to best advantage with the use of imaginatively manipulated musical textures and contexts. As is the case with Ives, however, London is represented here by music of a more serious cast. Composed for William Wittig, Melodrama for solo flute and chamber orchestra (vibraphone, harp and strings), while playful in its overall character, reveals a musical language appropriately austere for a piece of this title. According to the composer, the title refers to music accompanying spoken dialogue, a technique used most notably by Beethoven in the grave-digging scene in Fidelio and by Weber in the incantation scene of Der Freischütz. Another interpretation of the title in this case might be one of dramatic melody incorporating touches of Gothic melodrama (the music accompanying silent film, for instance). Here, the quixotic flute monologue is continually being interrupted by homophonic, often insistent, pulsed intrusions of the strings, and the equally repetitious, slightly nostalgic and shadowy iterations of harp and vibraphone. Whatever the flute suffers in this nail-biting episode, it copes as much with a dream as a drama, one in which the harmony, though thickly enough voiced to approach noise, is voiced much like Debussy, its repeated rhythmic gestures often consisting of tremolos with parallel voicing, usually four or six simultaneous lines. The dispelling of the tension near the end, just before the long and formidable flute cadenza, is, for this listener, the most arresting moment in the piece, a hauntingly voiced hexachord played diminuendo in strings, then repeated.


Charles Ives (1874-1954), our most colorful new England composer, hardly needs an introduction. Like many 20th Century American composers, his style varies greatly, although there often tends to be something about his music that strikes us immediately as quintessentially Ives—a harmony, a familiar tune—and undeniably American. But the often radical intrusion of vernacular utterances in his compositions, though a trademark, does not tell the whole story. The classical mastery he often brings to bear on musical material, a discipline honed as a student of Horatio Parker at Yale, is in evidence in much of his music. Indeed, many of his best pieces ignore the vernacular altogether for a more serious if less arresting approach. Hymns, by their very nature, and certainly as sung in the churches of New England, lend themselves to more conservative musical treatments, and Ives's Hymn, is, on the surface, no exception. But wonderful things swim beneath the surface in this short piece. If there is anything that makes this small gem Ivesian it is the harmony and texture, with its mild turbulence within the calm, a local nudging of insistent figures, a particularly poignant cello solo (played here by Judit Kiss-Domonkos, the principal cellist of the Budapest Opera), all within a musical utterance tuned more to contemplative melancholy than, as would be the case in any local religious prototype, to praise or adoration. The string orchestra version recorded here is an arrangement, published in 1966, of the original first movement of “A Set of 3 Short Pieces,” composed in 1904, for piano quartet and double bass.


The name Otto Luening (1900- 1996) appears most frequently in conjunction with his pioneering efforts with Vladimir Ussachevsky in the early days of electronic music. His talents, however, ranged far wider than experimentation in this area. He was trained extensively, both in Europe and America, as a flutist, conductor and composer, and his career, both as flutist and conductor, was considerable. He conducted opera with The American Grand Opera Company and, as part of a long and distinguished teaching career, at Columbia University. His academic associations also included positions at the University of Arizona, Bennington College and the Juilliard School. Some of his tonal music, like that of Henry Cowell and many other composers of his era, seems to emanate from earnestly American sources. His later works are apt to display a diversity of style hard to categorize, a diversity that can often be found within a single work.


Composed in 1923, the Concertino, with its constantly changing impulses and quixotic voicing for flute and chamber orchestra is a kind of fantasy. The music, despite its calm and unexaggerated syntax, is restless and seemingly unable to settle in any one location. But that, too, is part of its charm. At moments it reminds one of Griffes's admirable impressionistic 1918 Poem for flute and orchestra, although Luening is far less content than his predecessor to show off the more contemplative and seductive charms of the instrument, pushing ahead with a more restless program, almost as if the goal were to mimic a kind of nervous prose with an insistence on chatty non-redundancy. If it leaves one puzzled at the end, so much the better. In this case the flute is a fickle beast, unable in even its most serious undertakings to avoid the flight and fancy of its nature.


Five Summer Songs




New feet within my garden go,


New fingers stir the sod;


A troubadour upon the elm


Betrays the solitude.


New children play upon the green,


New weary sleep below;


And still the pensive spring returns,


And still the punctual snow!






South winds jostle them,


Bumblebees come,


Hover, hesitate,


Drink, and are gone.


Butterflies pause


On their passage Cashmere;


I, softly plucking,


Present them here!




I know a place where summer strives


With such a practiced frost,


She each year leads her daisies back,


Recording briefly, “Lost.”


But when the south wind stirs the pools


And struggles in the lanes,


Her heart misgives her for her vow,


And she pours soft refrains


Into the lap of adamant,


And spices, and the dew,


That stiffens quietly to quartz,


Upon her amber shoe.






To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, —


One clover, and a bee,


And revery.


The revery alone will do


If bees are few.






The one that could repeat the summer day


Were greater than itself, though he


Minutest of mankind might be.


And who could reproduce the sun,


At period of going down -


The lingering and the stain, I mean -


When Orient has been outgrown,


And Occident becomes unknown,


His name remain.




Being co-conductor of the Camerata Budapest and the permanent guest conductor of the Bucharest Philharmonia Orchestra are only two of the many orchestral positions Adrian Sunshine has held. He was also the founding music director of the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, and has been the music director for both the London Chamber Players and the Gulbenkian Orchestra of Lisbon, as well as the director of several music festivals, the Crete International Festival among them. He is presently a visiting professor at the Romanian Academy of Music in Bucharest, where he has been awarded an honorary doctorate. His orchestral engagements in more than forty countries include performances with the English Chamber Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Leningrad Philharmonic, and over two hundred concerts with Romanian orchestras. He and the Camerata have recently released a recording of works by Schoenberg and Shostakovitch. Born in New York, Mr. Sunshine resides in London.


William Wittig, professor of music at Smith College, is a graduate of the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, where he studied flute with Robert Willoughby and earned both Bachelors and Masters degrees in music. Later, he studied with Lucien Lavaillotte on a Fulbright Grant in Paris and with Kate Lukas in London. A former member of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, he served for thirty years as principal flute of the Springfield (Massachusetts) Symphony. He has appeared frequently as a soloist and recently toured England and France with the London Chamber Players. As author and producer he has written numerous programs for television, including “The Orchestra Talking” and the series “Music and Me” which won the American Cable Endowment Award in the category of educational programs for children. Mr. Wittig's recording of Ronald Perera's Music for Flute and Orchestra can also be heard on Albany Records (Troy 298).


Primarily a singer of opera and oratorio, Carole Wilson began her professional career with an appearance in Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades at the Glyndebourne Festival in 1995, singing there on another occasion the role of the Designer in Lulu (Glyndebourne). Since then her roles have included Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, the fortune teller in Arabella, Venus in Tannhäuser, Amneris in Aida and many others. Roles in 2001 included Frau Wesener in Manfred Gurlitt's Soldaten for Nantes Opera, and the mayor's wife in a new production of Jenufa, which marked her debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Her busy concert career has included engagements with the Cardiff Bach Choir, the Halifax Choral society and the Bournemouth Symphony.




Cover art:


Rockwell Kent. American, 1882-1971


Dublin Pond. 1903


Oil on canvas, 28 x 30 in. (71.1 x 76.2cm)


Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts


Purchased, Winthrop Hillyer Fund, 1904


These works were recorded at Magyar Radio Studios, Budapest, Hungary, October 7-9, 2001. All recording engineering and CD mastering were done by Peter Aczel. Notes, biographies and texts were written and compiled by Donald Wheelock. This recording was produced with generous support from a Harnish Fellowship from Smith College.












Budapest Camerata, Adrian Sunshine, conductor


Ronald Perera


Five Summer Songs on Poems of Emily Dickinson


1 New feet within my garden go [2:10]


2 South winds jostle them [1:40]


3 I know a place where summer strives [3:31]


4 To make a prairie [1:45]


5 The one that could repeat the summer day [3:35]


Carole Wilson, mezzo-soprano


Donald Wheelock


Chamber Symphony


6 I. Tempo giusto; moderato [6:36]


7 II. Scherzo; non troppo allegro [2:04]


8 III. Variations; adagio [6:36]


9 IV. Finale; vivo [4:58]


Edwin London


10 Melodrama [15:11]


William Wittig, flute


Charles Ives


11 Hymn [2:44]


Otto Luening


12 Concertino [7:24]


William Wittig, flute




Total Time = 58:21