ZYMAN Flute Concerto No. 2, "De Mineria"1. Flute and Harp Concerto1,2. Harp Concerto2 • 1Marisa Canales (fl); 2Mercedes Gómez (hp); Benjamin Juárez Echenique, cond; Orchestra of the Americas • URTEXT JBCC225 (69:47)
Though Mexican-born, Samuel Zyman has been based in New York for many years, where he teaches at Juilliard. Two of his concertos have been reviewed in these pages: a cello concerto, dating back to 1991––its 1994 recording was discussed by Paul A. Snook in issue 17:4––and a piano concerto which I reviewed quite recently in 37:4. Now the enterprising Urtext label brings us three more concertos: for flute, harp, and the Mozartean combination of the two.
Zyman's Second Flute Concerto (2008) is a bigger work than his first, using a larger orchestra and lasting almost half an hour. (The First Concerto for flute and chamber orchestra is available on another Urtext disc, played by the same soloist.) The first movement abounds with the composer's recognizable punchy rhythms; the flute, playing almost continuously, swaps motifs with various orchestral instruments or groups in a tightly knit development, and the mood is urgent. A slower but no less intense middle section leads to an extended solo cadenza. Often I find that cadenzas, while referencing a piece's thematic material, hold up the progress of a musical argument. That is the case in the flute and harp concerto but not here, because the cadenza is so well prepared and does not break the mood. Rich strings usher in the stately slow movement, which has a specifically Iberian feel due to its harmonic progressions. Brass dominate the orchestral textures in the fast sections of the final Presto, while a solo violin that played a prominent role earlier in the concerto reappears in a moment of respite. This is one of the most significant contemporary flute concertos I have heard (and there are quite a few of them).
In this performance, Canales's plangent tone is very affecting. She is the artist for whom both concertos were written, and clearly identifies in a personal way with Zyman's music. We also owe her a vote of thanks as a producer––she is a driving force behind the Urtext label which has brought so much first rate South American music to our attention––so it feels a little ungrateful to nitpick. Occasionally in taxing scale passages Canales will cut a note short to catch a breath. This is a minor criticism, however, and if you notice it at all you will find it completely outweighed by her warmth and musicianship.
The Flute and Harp Concerto (2001), in one continuous movement, begins as a stately, solemn dance. Again, Zyman sets up the sense that there is a journey before us, and the urgency soon increases with a faster tempo and a driving rhythmic figure in the lower strings. The harp part, though making use of arpeggios, is not decorative but angular, even percussive. While the cadenzas go on too long for my taste, the harp solo is certainly atmospheric. The Harp Concerto is the earliest of these works, dating from 1994. Running at around 20 minutes, it is in three movements. The mood of the first movement is gentle (at least, compared to that of the flute concerto) and archaic. The second movement, Lento Molto Espressivo, sounds very like a film score, and Gómez's playing is notably sensitive here. (Again, she is the artist for whom Zyman wrote the work.) This movement contains the most expressive and, at times, stirring music on the disc. Finally, the sharply syncopated dance figures of the third movement utilize the full orchestra––including prominent brass and timpani––and conclude the program with a flourish.
Performances are excellent under Juarez’s skillful baton and well recorded. In an ideal world the Orchestra of the Americas's strings could be more lush, but they play beautifully. Most important of all, this music justifies its existence from the first measure to the last. Highly recommended. Phillip Scott.