Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose, conductor
Composer Harold Shapero (1920-2013) was a central figure during the mid-twentieth century. A member of the Boston neoclassical group of composers, he was one of the first professors hired by Irving Fine for a new composition program at Brandeis University. Shapero had three principal influences that are evident in his work: the craftsmanship of Nadia Boulanger, transmitted both through his work with her in Cambridge and his principal teacher at Harvard, Walter Piston, the neoclassical works of Igor Stravinsky, and Aaron Copland’s midcareer music. In the 1950s and 60s, Stravinsky and Copland both explored serial procedures in their music, leaving Shapero bereft. As a stylistic holdout, his productivity slowed down and music became unduly neglected. But as a teacher at Brandeis of numerous prominent composers, he remained an influential presence on the Boston scene.
There have been few recent recordings of Shapero’s music. As they have in championing so many underserved figures, Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), conducted by Gil Rose, has come to the rescue with a CD of his orchestral works. Sinfonia in C minor is given a muscular reading, its heraldic fanfares and vinegary wind outbursts punctuate neo-baroque dotted rhythms and taut solo writing. More mellifluous is Credo for Orchestra (1955), the closest Shapero came to writing an Americana piece. On Green Mountain for jazz ensemble is a Third Stream work. Played with impressive verve here, it demonstrates Shapero’s fluency in a traditional jazz idiom. As with so many releases by BMOP, this disc makes one hope that the programmed pieces achieve wider circulation. Best Orchestral Recording 2020.