Walker: Sinfonias 1-5 - Noseda
National Symphony Orchestra NSO0007
Classical - Orchestral
Walker: Sinfonias 1-5
National Symphony Orchestra
Gianandrea Noseda (conductor)
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Review by Graham Williams - October 8, 2023
The National Symphony Orchestra's latest SACD release on its own label featuring the five Sinfonias of George Walker (1922-2018) is something of a musical revelation. Conducted by the NSO’s charismatic Music Director, Gianandrea Noseda, this album pays homage to Walker, a trailblazing figure in American classical music and a native of Washington DC. As the first African American composer to be honoured with a Pulitzer Prize, Walker's contributions are both historically significant and artistically profound.
Recorded during live performances between January 2022 to May and June 2023 at the John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts, these renditions capture the essence of Walker's iconoclastic compositions. Spanning a period from 1984 to 2016, the Sinfonias are presented here in chronological order, allowing listeners to witness the evolution of Walker's creative genius during that period.
Noseda's interpretation of Walker's work is nothing short of revelatory. His incisive performances demonstrate a deep understanding of the composer's intent. As described by Noseda himself, these pieces are "concise in expression, rigorous in structure, and have their unique sound world." Each of the Sinfonias showcases Walker's mastery in utilizing the orchestra, weaving intricate and often elemental blocks of sound that challenge the listener with their occasional dissonance, yet captivate with their unyielding power and vitality.
The final Sinfonia, "Visions," stands as a powerful testament to Walker's artistic vision. With vocal parts interwoven with the orchestral fabric, the piece serves as a poignant protest against the violence that shook Charleston in 2015. The haunting declamations by the five vocalists resonate deeply, serving as a stark reminder of the power of music as a vessel for social commentary
The recording quality, thanks to the meticulous efforts of the Soundmirror team, is nothing short of breathtaking. Blanton Alspaugh's production and Mark Donahue's engineering work combine to deliver a demonstration-quality recording. The sound is expansive, rich in detail, and possesses a depth that envelopes the listener in a superb sonic embrace on this multichannel SACD.
The excellent presentation of the disc reflects the significance of this release. The accompanying 30-page booklet, featuring Frank Schramm's evocative photographs chronicling Walker's life, is most welcome while Peter Laki's notes on each Sinfonia provide invaluable context, enhancing the listener's appreciation of Walker's oeuvre.
In every aspect, the NSO's album of George Walker's Sinfonias is a triumph. It not only pays tribute to an uncompromising 21st century composer but also exemplifies the orchestra's commitment to preserving and championing American musical heritage. This compelling SACD is a must-have for any adventurous classical music aficionado.
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