Two works by Jonathan Leshnoff

Thanks to various CD’s released by REFERENCE RECORDINGS I have become an admirer of the music of American composer Jonathan Leshnoff. Over the past two years I have enthusiastically reviewed two of his works: the Double Concerto for Clarinet and Bassoon, and his Symphony no. 4, “Heichalos.”

In a recent REFERENCE RECORDINGS release featuring Leshnoff’s piano concerto and his Symphony no. 3, Michael Stern leads the formidable Kansas Symphony Orchestra, with Joyce Yang as the concerto soloist and baritone Stephen Powell as the vocal soloist in the symphony’s third movement.

The impressive lineup of soloists and the sterling work of the Kansas musicians numbers immense artistic rewards in this treasure of a recording, impeccably engineered and produced by Dirk Sobatka of Soundmirror.

Jonathan Leshnoff explains and insightfully annotates his music better than anyone else could in his excellently written liner notes. The concerto – a 2019 composition dedicated to Joyce Yang is, as so much of Leshnoff music a spiritual work, deeply anchored in Jewish mysticism. Structured in four movements – a straightforward Allegro, a meditative Lento, a playful and brief Scherzo, and a rousing Finale – the composition is technically challenging, and it affords the soloist numerous opportunities to display her virtuosity.  Her sensitivity, when the music calls for a cantabile approach, reminds the listener of the immensity of Joyce Yang’s pianistic gifts.

The Symphony no. 3 is a riveting composition that incorporates into its third movement the texts of two letters unearthed by the composer in the archives of the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas. One is from Dr. Charles Irons, who served with the American Expeditionary Forces in Siberia. The other is from Lieutenant James Kellogg Burnham Hockaday, a First Lieutenant, 354th Infantry, 89th Division, from Kansas City, Missouri.

While the symphony’s first movement begins slowly and meditatively, the music eventually climaxes, leading to a restless second movement that in Leshnoff’s words is “depiction of war and battles.” The second movement leads to the heart and soul of the composition: a third movement that quietly makes its case musically to then calmly taper off into silence in a remarkable ending to a masterful work.

The texts are both touching and noble, with the composer allowing the words to be up front and center. Baritone Stephen Powell was chosen for the task and he delivers a wonderful performance with utmost vocal ease and flawless diction.

The Kansas City Symphony, led by Michael Stern provides first class support to the soloists and a deeply committed approach to the music of Jonathan Leshnoff.

Rafael de Acha