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February 8, 2000

Modern ComposersSerebrier conducts Serebrier. Partita (Symphony No. 2); Fantasia (for Strings); Sonata for Violin Solo; Winterreise. London Philharmonic Orchestra, Jose Serebrier conductor. (Reference Recordings, CD # RR-90CD) 1999.

Jose Serebrier (b. 1938) is one of the world's leading orchestra conductors, but is not as well known as a composer. This new recording from Reference Recordings contains four of Serebrier's compositions, covering a span of over fifty years, from the Sonata for Violin Solo, Opus 1, written in 1948 at age ten, to Winterreise, composed in 1999. Regarding his Opus 1, the composer admits that "At the time [it was written] I had no idea what a sonata was, nor any other musical form or key-relationships, or anything else about music theory." Half a century later, however, the composer himself thought enough of that boyhood work to quote extensively from it in his Winter Violin Concerto.

Serebrier was born in Montevideo, Uruguay to Russian and Polish parents. He began conducting at age eleven, and while a high-school student he organized and conducted the first Uruguay youth orchestra, a group that performed more than a hundred concerts throughout the country during the four years Serebrier was its leader. Upon graduating, however, Serebrier found the opportunities in Uruguay too limited, and so he immigrated to the United States, becoming apprentice conductor with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra under Antol Dorati. At age 22, Serebrier was picked by Leopold Stokowski to be Associated Conductor of the newly- formed American Symphony Orchestra in New York. Since then he has conducted orchestras in many nations, and is widely regarded as one of the foremost conductors in the world, known for "his intense, dynamic approach to music and his superb control of the orchestra."

The Partita, subtitled Symphony No. 2, which begins this collection, was written in 1958, while Serebrier was at Minneapolis. Written in four movements for full orchestra, it remains one of the composer's most ambitious and most popular works. It was recorded in 1961 by the Louisville Orchestra, but because of the limitations of LP recordings at that time, the second movement, titled Funeral March, was cut. The present CD is the first full-length recording of the work, and is also the premiere recordings of the other works. The Funeral March movement of the Partita was recorded some years later by Stokowski and the American Symphony Orchestra, but under the title Poema Elegiaco.

The opening movement of Partita is a prelude, using "Latin American-sounding rhythms and colors." The second movement, Funeral March, is described by the composer as "in a somber Slavic mood, in full contrast to the rather indifferent opening movement." The third section is a short transition or interlude leading up to the "grand finale" of the fourth and final movement, described as "an intricate fugue in which the theme of the Funeral March transforms itself little by little into an irreverent conga/candombe." The final section "ends with a jazz semi- improvisation, based on the same Latin mold." Partita was well received by audiences and critics from its first performances, and forty years on has not lost its freshness and vitality.

You can hear Partita (Symphony No. 2) of Jose Serebrier, conducted by the composer, on WHIL-FM (91.3) Thursday, February 10 at 7:00 as part of their weekly series of music from after 1950.

-- J. Green

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