Alan Rich
April 26, 1991 AT 04:00 AM EDT

American Elegies

Current Status
In Season
John Adams, Paul Crossley, Dawn Upshaw
Elektra, Nonesuch

We gave it an A

To many listeners, serious American music summons up the big noise of Aaron Copland’s cowboy ballets or Leonard Bernstein’s jazzy theater pieces. American Elegies is an enchanting collection which honors its quiet side, in a historic sweep running from Charles Ives’ mysterious, nocturnal ”The Unanswered Question” of 1906 to John Adams’ ”Eros Piano,” a wistful little concerto composed just the other day. An elegiac, understated beauty unites both these works and also the music on this album that came in between: Morton Feldman’s ”Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety,” a delicious, tiny memoir of his onetime piano teacher (who, as the music suggests, had a cuckoo clock); Ingram Marshall’s ”Fog Tropes,” a haunting tone-picture that merges taped sounds of San Francisco into an instrumental ensemble; and the quiet grief of the young David Diamond in his 1938 ”Elegy in Memory of Maurice Ravel,” noting the passing of his friend and teacher with the sincerest form of flattery. Performances, by New York’s best free-lance orchestra — probably its best, period — are superfine, and the silvery appeal of the marvelous Dawn Upshaw lends the extra touch of eloquence to five exquisitely simple Ives’ songs in Adams’ expert orchestrations. This is an enchanting collection, continually beautiful, quietly profound. A

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