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ALLA BREVE

August 30, 1987|ALLAN ULRICH

GRUENBERG: "THE CREATION," "WHITE LILACS," "FOUR DIVERSIONS," "SIX JAZZ EPIGRAMS," "RHAPSODY." William Brown, tenor; Joel Smirnoff, violin; Christopher Oldfather, piano; Collage Ensemble conducted by Gunther Schuller. GM Recordings GM-2015 (compact disc; (617) 332-6398). Barely remembered today for his 1933 opera "The Emperor Jones" and for a violin concerto commissioned by Jascha Heifetz in 1944, Louis Gruenberg (1884-1964) evolved from child prodigy to Busoni student to leading advocate of an American classical style distinct from the European heritage. This zesty, valuable survey of the chamber music finds Gruenberg mining a vein of bluesy sophistication tempered by Bartokian dissonance in the concise "White Lilacs," "Four Diversions" and "Rhapsody" (all in fiery performances by Smirnoff) and the jaunty "Jazz Epigrams." "The Creation," a major Gruenberg opus, borrows a James Weldon Johnson text for an orchestrally accompanied "Negro sermon," molded by shifting tonality, but Brown's dry, shallow tenor rarely vivifies the material. Fine sound.

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