AOM Logo July 2000


Partita (Symphony No.2); Fantasia for Strings; Sonata for Solo Violin; Winterreise

With the London Philharmonic.


David Aspinall

Record Cover

For this listener the name of Jose Serebrier connects most immediately with the more familiar names of Ives and Stokowski. Serebrier apprenticed with Stokowski and the first time I heard Ives' Symphony No. 4 was the old Columbia LP jointly conducted by Stokowski and Serebrier. That record goes back to the sixties, so I suppose I've got a lot of catching up to do with the conductor/composer. After four or five hearings of this CD I cannot summon a great deal of enthusiasm for the task. Last things first: the recording is predictably stunning. The thwacks and the thumps are definitely moving - if you measure music values according to impact on the viscera. However, the music itself seemed to me - I find it hard to resist the adverb "predictably" in another context - self-congratulatory in its eclecticism. Many of the composers of this post-modernist era share this affliction: they seem merely the sum of their influences, and whereas in the past that sometimes led in interesting creative directions (e.g. Gershwin or Ives himself), I can't name a single composer of the last generation who convinces me that eclecticism is not actually less than the sum of its influences. Here we have the first complete recording of Serebrier's Partita (Symphony No. 2), which takes off in several directions (thankfully sequentially, not, as with Ives, at the same time!). Those who find Villa-Lobos cross-fertilized with Shostakovich might wish to sample. The piece ends with some semi-improvised percussion (the aforementioned thwacks included) which have as little meaning to this listener as the once-potent poundings of Ginger Baker or Carl Palmer. The Fantasia still hasn't made much impact of any kind. The Sonata follows another fashionable path - existentialist thrashing about, of no discernible aesthetic moment. The least we can ask of existentialism is some honest emotion, yet I find no human point of contact in this self-absorbed, arid aesthetic. However, there is (just barely) enough that is attractive, if not memorable, in Serebrier's music to make me return to it once or twice more before giving up. Which might be enough of a practical consideration to discourage even the most adventurous collectors from making the substantial investment (dollars and especially time) that this CD demands.

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