- Serenade for 2 violins, viola, cello & double bass in D major
- String Quartet
- String Trio
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Although the American vernacular music of Aaron Copland remains justly celebrated, much other American neo-classic music from the 1920s to the '50s -- when international serialism pummeled the stuffing out of neo-classicism -- falls into the camp of the unknown and obscure. That's bad news for composers like Harold Shapero, who studied with Ernst Krenek, Walter Piston, Paul Hindemith, and Nadia Boulanger, among others; winning the prize to the American Academy of Rome in 1941, he was unable to take advantage of it at the time due to war's outbreak; he finally took his residency in 1970. Shapero taught at Brandeis University for 37 years and founded its electronic studio; he has also been a Guggenheim fellow. In the era of the LP, Shapero's music was infrequently recorded, but it did appear; a particularly treasurable vinyl item is a never-reissued Columbia Masterworks recording of Shapero's "Sonata for Piano Four Hands" (1941) as performed by the composer with pianist/composer Leo Smit. At the world premiere of this piece in 1945, the second pianist had been Leonard Bernstein. However, in the CD era if it hadn't been for New World Records Shapero's slim catalog of compositions would be altogether invisible, and that's a pity, as Shapero's music is charming, appealing, skillfully crafted, recognizable as his stylistically and serious in intent. Shapero's great sin, according to Aaron Copland, was too much of a reliance on modeling, which Copland likened to a kind of "hero worship," an innocently intended comment that nevertheless did great harm to the composer's reputation when uttered in 1948. While it has not led to a great, whomping renaissance of Shapero in the concert halls, modeling has evolved into a major concern for twenty first century composers in a big way, so Shapero may have been somewhat ahead of the curve rather than behind the eight ball, which is how Copland made it sound. New World Records' Harold Shapero -- Lydian String Quartet features three early chamber works; the "String Trio" (1937), "String Quartet" (1941), and the composer's own 1998 recasting of his orchestral "Serenade in D" (1945) for string quintet. One aspect that should be clear to knowledgeable listeners is that the models are not in plain view; while the "Serenade" may contain Stravinskyian gestures one would not mistake this for Stravinsky; while the "String Trio" -- a tremendously assured piece for something written by a 17-year-old composer -- might bring to mind the approach of Berg's "Lyric Suite," it doesn't sound like a product of the Second Viennese School. One hallmark of this entire disc is the strong sense of stylistic continuity; Shapero's music is modal, brightly rhythmic, and at times nearly jazzy but also somewhat oblique and ever so slightly eccentric. It is the sort of thing that rewards repeated listenings by exposing new details each time heard and does not give all of its secrets away at the first listen, and while it is never aggressive, neither is it placid or overly ingratiating. The Lydian String Quartet, based at Brandeis where Shapero himself long taught, has long been recognized for its acuity with modern American works and this disc is no exception. One could argue for a little more drive in the "Serenade," but overall these performances are fine and the string quartet is especially good. While to many Harold Shapero may well remain a byway rather than the main route, this is exactly the kind of "road less traveled" that repays dividends to the listener and should nevertheless be taken.
|Label:||New World Records|