The Knights' New Worlds

04.24.10
The Knights
WQXR 105.9 fm

Copland, Dvorak and Ives mingle with recent works by Osvaldo Golijov and Gabriela Lena Frank in New Worlds, an appealing new recording by The Knights chamber orchestra. It’s this week’s Full Rotation.

Even in a city rich in freelance orchestras, The Knights have been turning up with growing frequency in New York’s concert halls over the past five years. The 35-member group, formed by the cellist and conductor Eric Jacobsen and his brother, the violinist Colin Jacobsen, plays both standard repertory and new music (they recently served as the house band at the downtown MATA Festival). This collection traces the evolving notion of an American identity in classical music.

The program opens with The Unanswered Question by Charles Ives, one of the first American composers of global repute whose collage-like effects are beautifully realized by The Knights, especially trumpeter Joshua Frank and the team of four wind players. The German cellist Jan Vogler makes a brief but strong impression in the cello and orchestra version of Dvorak’s Silent Woods (Klid). Copland’s Appalachian Spring gets a bright, if slightly rough-hewn performance.

Underscoring the melting-pot character of American music, South American folk themes are heard in two pieces. Osvaldo Golijov’s Last Round was written in 1996 as a tribute to his fellow-countryman, the Argentinian composer and bandoneon-player, Astor Piazzolla. The bustling first movement represents the act of a violent compression of the bandoneon; while the second is a fantasy over the refrain of the 1930’s song “My Beloved Buenos Aires.” The Knights deliver its rustic earthiness like a strong glass of Argentine Malbec.

Not to be overlooked are three movements of Gabriela Lena Frank's Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout as well. The luminous work for string orchestra evokes Andean folk instruments, from panpipes to guitars to the tarka, a heavy wooden duct flute that creates a harsh tone. This young composer from Berkeley, California, born in 1972, has a keen ear for instrumental color and it's clear why she's increasingly making a name for herself.

New Worlds
The Knights
Jan Vogler, cello
Eric Jacobsen, conductor
Sony Classical

Available at Arkivmusic.com