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Concerto and Rhapsody
 Artists: Joseph Ashley, harmonica; William Gati, pianist and Co Nguyen, conductor.
Concerto and Rhapsody 20360-13082 (2008)
Running Length: 78 minutes
Composer Alexander Tcherepnin, who was on the faculty for De Paul University in Chicago, is known for orchestral and piano music. However, he considered the harmonica more than a blues instrument and composed a serious Concerto for it. On this CD, harmonica soloist Joseph Ashley performs this 29-minute composition and it is remarkable not only for a romantic melody, but chordal structure and dynamics.  Conductor Co Nguyen provides concise direction. Joseph Ashley plays a Hohner four octave chromatic harmonica.
However, right after the "Concerto for Harmonica and Orchestra," comes an abridged version of the same composition for 19 minutes. I can’t remember the last time I have heard of virtually the same composition being repeated on the same CD. The original "Concerto" is complete and you don’t realize that almost 30 minutes have gone by. The abridgement, then, appears rushed and unnecessarily compressed. 
There are no program notes, so I can’t give credit to individual orchestral members, but the string section in Part II of the "Concerto" is lush, and works side-by-side with the harmonica. Percussion in Part IV is a highlight and leads to a rapid ending. All the while, Joseph Ashley displays good breath control, eloquent phrasing and keen pitch.
The last half of the CD contains a selection of pieces including Andrea Morricone’s “Love Theme from Cinema Paradiso,“ Alexander Borodin’s “Polovetsian Dances Theme” and George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love.” Here, Joseph Ashley is accompanied by pianist William Gati. This is where the CD could have used an extra rehearsal. The two artists are a quarter of a beat apart on most of the pieces, especially noticeable on Prokofieff’s "March from The Love for Three Oranges,” Manuel De Falla‘s “Ritual Fire Dance” and Giazotto's "Adagio" (supposedly based on a theme by Albinoni). Not only that, but at times the piano overwhelms the harmonica. 
It would have been wise to just have Alexander Tcherepnin’s “Concerto” in its entirety, plus, perhaps, Morricone, Borodin and a Gershwin piece, then place the rest of the selections on a second CD. At 78 minutes, Concerto and Rhapsody is about 35 minutes too long.
Copyright 2008 Marie Asner
Submitted 3/15/08

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