Jamestown Concerto by the American composer William Perry (b.1930) offers a cinematic, tonally approachable style painted with colourful orchestration and an appealing programme tracing the history of the first English settlement in the United States from the pioneers to the present day. The story involves the legend of Pocahontas, and a movement is devoted to her arrival in London – strikingly perky and jaunty, and a sharp contrast to the previous austere section depicting the harsh winters. A pupil of Hindemith, Perry has an impressive textural command, though his language is more reminiscent of Vaughan Williams in the opening movement and peppered by an urban Coplandesque style in the finale. Yehuda Hanani gives a persuasive account of a work that surely has strong potential for popularity in the United States.
Less appealing is the lyrical yet tonally ambiguous fantasy by William Schuman, based on Shakespeare’s poem Orpheus with his lute (read eloquently here by actress Jane Alexander). The work’s opening is perhaps its most evocative moment, but for a 23-minute piece the raw material needs to be more distinctive as the musical thread doesn’t readily present itself. Once again Hanani and the well-recorded RTÉ orchestra give an intelligent reading, and the soloist’s technical accomplishment is impressive aside from the very occasional wayward moment of intonation in the highest passages.
Hanani concludes this enterprising programme with Virgil Thomson’s Concerto. The buoyant and colourful opening is soundly tonal, though the middle movement – based on the ‘Tribulation’ hymn – offers a more imaginative polytonal section, before the cheery if somewhat bland fare returns. Again Hanani sells the music effectively, but is it a neglected gem? I remain unconvinced.