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Album review: 'American Rapture' 

Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra

'American Rapture'

Azica Records;

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra's new album "American Rapture" highlights the most intriguing components of the RPO's musical identity in the Ward Stare era. Five seasons into Stare's tenure as music director, the RPO has been at its most compelling when it expresses admiration for crucial 20th-century figures like Samuel Barber, and when it indulges its curiosity in the music of living composers.

"American Rapture" represents both these inclinations, in a live recording that achieves the vibrancy of a concert performance combined with a polished, hi-resolution sound. Thanks to producer Alan Bise and engineer Bruce Egre, the music is especially vivid, lending an excitement that is difficult to achieve on orchestral recordings.

On the world premiere recording of Jennifer Higdon's mercurial Harp Concerto, the crystalline precision of Yolanda Kondonassis's harp, the rhythmic buoyancy of Stare's conducting, and the cohesion of the orchestra achieve a kind of mystical alchemy. This is especially the case during the boisterous, at times cacophonous final movement, "Rap Knock." Patrick Harlin's "Rapture," also in a world premiere recording, proves that it's every bit the defiant orchestral showpiece it was when Stare and the RPO first performed it in 2016.

But the orchestra's rendition of Barber's Symphony No. 1 is the show-stealer: a revelatory performance, uncovering a wild and unfettered side to the composer's lyrical neo-Romanticism. With Stare at the helm, the ensemble's sound - spearheaded by the strings - is bold and articulate.

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