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Sowerby: Paul Whiteman Commissions

Sowerby: Paul Whiteman Commissions—Andy Baker Orchestra; Avalon String Quartet, Winston Choi, piano (Cedille 205)

An album of works that have never before existed in the WCLV library!  Leo Sowerby was among the leading young American classical composers commissioned by bandleader Paul Whiteman to create fresh repertoire for his landmark series of “symphonic jazz” concerts — a roster that also included George Gershwin, Ferde Grofé, and Zez Confrey.  The same Jazz Age concerts that saw the premieres of Sowerby’s Synconata and Symphony for Jazz Orchestra also launched Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue into America’s consciousness.  The two Whiteman commissions here are that engaging Synconata and the Symphony, which bears the misleading—not to mention unfortunate—nickname, ‘Monotony’ (a moniker we will not be using on WCLV!)  Its four movements are inspired by imagined scenes from Sinclair Lewis’s 1922 satirical novel Babbitt. In the second movement, Fridays at Five, Babbitt attends a Prohibition-era cocktail party, masquerading as a ‘tea party.’  These world-premiere recordings are by Chicago bandleader-trombonist Andrew Baker and his Andy Baker Orchestra.  The program also includes Sowerby chamber works from the same period: his Serenade for String Quartet and the first-ever recordings of his String Quartet in D minor and Tramping Tune for piano and strings. If “Tramping Tune” sounds like something Percy Grainger might have written, you’re almost right: Sowerby wrote it under the mentorship of the famous Austrailian.