Archive for the “Symphony” Category

coates.gifCOATES: Symphony 15; Cantata da Requiem; Transitions. Teri Dunn, soprano; Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Michael Boder; Talisker Players; Ars Nova Nuremberg/Werner Heider. Naxos 8. 559371. 59 minutes.

Originality is no longer the coin of the realm in music composition. It’s been over forty years since Charles Wuorinen wonder how you could have a revolution when the revolution before last declared “anything goes”. However, there are still many ways a composer can produce works whose hallmark is a striking originality. Given that anything goes, one avenue towards originality is in the striking juxtaposition of disparate musical elements.

Gloria Coates is a master of this juxtaposition. In his informative notes to this recording, Kyle Gann describes the signature elements of her music:

. . . slow string glissandos. Another is wavery textures of faster glissandos, at varying rates. Another is conventionally tonal chorale writing, often quoting previous music. Another is simple, even marchlike rhythmic patterns, sometimes offset within her favorite 5/4 meter.

What makes this music so compelling is the way these simple, clearly identifiable gestures are put together. Actually, they are often forced together, and it’s the strain of the disparate elements coming together that gives Coates’ music its dark, expressive power.

A fine example of this power is the second movement of the Fifteenth Symphony (“Homage to Mozart”). A wind chorale is gradually overcome by massive, slow glissandos in the strings. Simplicity itself, but indelible nonetheless.

All of the performances on this remarkable program are top notch. Soprano Teri Dunn gives a moving reading of the soprano part in the Cantata da Requiem, a setting of texts by American and German women written during the Second World War. The instrumental ensembles all play Coates’ difficult-sounding music with apparent ease, born of commitment and understanding.

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Abe.gifABE: Symphony 1; Divertimento; Sinfonietta. Aleksey Volkov, alto sax; Russian Philharmonc/Dmitry Yablonsky. Naxos 8.557987. 65 minutes.

Komei Abe (1911-2006) is a member of a generation of Japanese composers who came of age with a musical background that was almost entirely Westernized. There is no hint of Japanese music (that I can hear) in this program of orchestral music Abe wrote in the 1950s and “˜60s.

Abe’s music is very straight-forwardly tonal, melodic, and well-formed. It is also lighter than air, and even the more aggressive gestures in the Symphony are pretty friendly. The sharpest movement, with the most bite, is the Scherzo: Andante-Presto of the Sinfonieta, with its thrilling rhythmic accents and brassy outbursts.

Abe’s style is shown to good effect in the Divertimento for Saxophone and Orchestra. Aleksey Volkov gives a silky account of the sinuous solo line and the orchestral accompaniment is lean and supportive.

Good performances and warm sound.

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rochberg 1.gifROCHBERG: Symphony 1. Saarbrücken Radio Symphony/Christopher Lyndon-Gee. Naxos 8.559214. 64 minutes.

George Rochberg remains a much-read and widely-discussed figure in 20th century music. His stylistic journeys (into and out of serialism, through quotation/collage postmodernism, and finally to his own brand of extended tonality) and the voluminous prose that accompanied these changes may be better known than the music itself. If there has been a big increase in performances of Rochberg’s music since his passing in 2005, I am not aware of it.

I’ve always had a lukewarm (at best) reaction to Rochberg’s music, in which I’ve not been able to discern a distinctive musical personality. I’m well aware of the possibility that I’ve experienced the music this way because of my deep disagreement with many of his ideas about music.

It was an extremely pleasant surprise, then, to hear this recording of the composer’s First Symphony (1948-49, rev. 1977 and 2003). It is a fully-realized work that sums up the mid-century American symphonic style and is one of the style’s greatest achievements.

The first movement grabs your attention from the beginning and doesn’t let go. It is built from clearly-etched gestures more than from themes, and these gestures are memorable for their rhythmic drive and muscular profiles. They seem made from post-war American confidence and recall the incisiveness of Stravinsky’s nearly contemporaneous Symphony in Three Movements.

The second movement (“Night Music: Poco adagio; like a slow March”) is a dark, restlessly supple slow movement marked by passages of greater rhythmic activity. In this movement, as in all the others, several instruments are highlighted””a nervously skittering violin solo returns to haunt the proceedings.

The central Capriccioso is a raucous and colorfully lively movement that earns its name””the music is in a constant state of flux. The changes in character come so rapidly, so capriciously that they may seem random and unmotivated. But the movement holds together as a strong musical statement.

Following a now lyrical, now dramatic slow Variations movement, the Symphony closes with a powerfully brash and forceful Finale. As in the earlier movements, the various sections of the orchestra are given their chance to shine. The Symphony’s conclusion is abrupt, expressive, and completely convincing.

The Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra, under the able direction of Christopher Lyndon-Gee (who also wrote the informative liner notes), is up to the task of delivering this sprawling and difficult work. Naxos gives their performance plenty of sonic room and it and the piece are very well served. This work shoots to the upper regions of pieces I would like to hear in performance, and it gives me incentive to revisit Rochberg’s other music, to see if there’s something I missed before.

 

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559337.gifLOCKLAIR: Symphony of Seasons; Lairs of Soundings; Phoenix and Again; In Memory””H.H.L.; Harp Concerto. Janeanne Houston, soprano; Jacquelyn Bartlett, harp; Slovak Radio Symphony/Kirk Trevor. Naxos 8.559337. 75 minutes.

When Aaron Copland created the orchestral sound of America in Billy the Kid (1938) he triggered a musical movement that has yet to be exhausted. Elements of the sound remain in American orchestral music of otherwise wildly divergent styles, in film music, and even in popular music. So it is with the music of Dan Locklair.

Locklair’s music (at least in the compositions on this disc) moves among three distinctive modes of expression:

·           Exuberant and joyful””marked by lively rhythms, open, fifth-based harmonies and ringing orchestration;

·           Elegiac””darker harmonies, led by rich string sectional writing; and

·           Muscular and rhetorical””phrases that build towards climaxes and resolution, with grand gestures.

In the symphonic works on the program, Locklear deploys these expressive modes in the service of the long-standing tradition of symphonic discourse. The Symphony of Seasons and the Harp Concerto are both solid and safe additions to the repertoire. The Concerto is not a virtuosic display piece, but rather an obbligato work in which the harp is a leading voice in the orchestral texture. Jacquelyn Bartlett gives an expressive performance of the solo part, which seems to be very well-written for the instrument.

The Symphony displays Locklair’s skill and manipulating his materials and the expressive modes as well as providing a showpiece for the orchestra. It would sound really well in performance.

Soprano Janeanne Houston shows remarkable range and musicality in Lairs of Soundings, a setting of three poems of Ursula K. LeGuin. Locklair’s settings of the texts are is clear and expressive.

The two shorter works on the disc, Phoenix and Again and In Memory””H.H.L fill the program out nicely. The Slovak Radio Symphony, under the baton of Kirk Trevor give a good accounting of themselves, and Naxos’ sound is clean and warm.

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B000F6YWR6-01-_AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_V54317174_.jpeHAMERIK: Choral-Symphony 7; Requiem. Randi Stene, mezzo-soprano; Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Choir/Thomas Dausgaard. Dacapo 8.226033 79 minutes

It is normally a fool’s errand to analyze the work of an artist through his biography. Or worse, it’s shallow. But it the case of Danish composer Asger Hamerik (1843-1923) the facts that he studied with Berlioz, was a contemporary of Gustav Mahler, and lived in the United States for much of his career illuminate a great deal about his music.

At least the two pieces on this disc. The Choral-Symphony (his Seventh, Op. 40, 1906) has much in common with Mahler’s symphonies besides the use of a chorus. The composer’s text concerns life, death, and resurrection. Hamerik composes melodies with a folk quality to them in addition to melodies with a more “classical” sound. Many of them have a distinctly American sound. The work is cyclical, with the slow theme that opens the symphony appearing near the end in a new guise. Also like many of Mahler’s symphonies, the Choral-Symphony is not in four movements (it’s in three) and has a “progressive” tonality; it begins in d minor and ends triumphantly in C Major.

Hamerik’s music is not an echo of Mahler’s, however. His harmony is fresh, personal, and convincing. His study under Berlioz left him with a rhythmic style more French than German, and his use of syncopation is distinctive. His mastery of tonal architecture is thorough, and his climaxes are satisfying. This symphony is well worth hearing and performing.

Hamerik’s Requiem (1886-87) is in the tradition of his teacher’s. It is dramatic and symphonic. Like the Symphony, it’s theme’s are clearly constructed, memorable, and often folk-influenced. There is a striking fanfaree motive that recurs throughout the “Dies Irae” and in the “Sanctus” that holds the piece together. Like Berlioz’ and Mozart’s Requiem masses, the opening music returns at the end with the repetition of the text. It works beautifully here as an organic part of Hamerik’s style.

The performances are very good indeed, the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Choir, under Thomas Dausgaard perform with passion and commitment. Mezzo Randi Stene solos in both pieces and has a clear, warm voice. Dacapo’s sound is quite good; everything sounds clear and with a natural presence.

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