Review by garthoz May 9, 2009 (6 of 6 found this review helpful)
|What a rewarding and entertaining program this is, entertaining in the sense of exciting the senses and imagination while in no sense precluding the possibility of a more intellectual engagement with these compositions. We might expect modern American music to be parochially new world and bold, even brash, and we do find those elements here. True to title, a spectrum is indeed presented in this list, with elements from the baroque through to jazz to pop, and with strongly programmed music through to film through to dance music, in compositions from 1963 through to 2005.
Michael Daugherty's "Sunset Strip" of 1999 is first. Michael is aware of American icons, be they people, places or things. This three part piece is based on that famous strip beginning in downtown LA and ending at the Pacific Ocean. In his words it is "music in motion, in which I put the performer and the listener in the driver's seat." There is jazz, there are trumpets and sometimes a lot of things happening at once, but most of all there is surrealism and the feeling of being swept along and involved in the images.
John Williams' "Escapades for alto saxophone and orchestra"(2002)is based on his score for the film "Catch me if you can". This is a skilfully orchestrated and involving piece in three movements. The performance of Branford Marsalis on the alto sax takes the breath away. There are moments of introspection as well as very joyous ones. This is not just film music but a serious stand alone composition.
Ned Rorem's "Lions" from 1963 is the earliest of these pieces. It is based on his poem of a dream of 20 years earlier, involving discovering musical sounds, a clock, a closet, lions, death and peace. "Today I reconstruct the forgotten poem in orchestration." I found this piece challenging at first but more rewarding on repeated hearings. There is a jazz quartet, mysticism, moments of sublime harmony and variation, restlessness, discord and a couple of shocks near the end.
Christopher Rouse's "Friandises" ('bits' or 'morsels') of 2005 is a dance piece written on commission. The five movements include 'Sicilienne', 'Passepied' and 'Sarabande', suggesting a link to a Baroque French suite. It has moments that are big, bold and inventive. The final 'Galop' is great fun with its quotations from well known dance music of Offenbach etc.
With regard to sound quality, it seemed that the orchestra was a little recessed on the sound stage in the first three items but very much up front in the Friandises. If it was the intention of the engineers to give the solo instruments and quartet more space then it certainly was appropriate for my listening. However it gave the impression of a degree of thinness to the sound which was, however more than made up for by the full-blooded sound in the 'Friandises'.
Orchestra and conductor handled all the challenges of these pieces superbly; it would be hard to imagine better performances. Well done to all involved in this recording.
My appetite has now been whetted for more music by these composers.
And what a wonderful painting on the front cover! By Tony Berlant and entitled "Me" the thumbprint truly represents the individuality, spectrum of styles and confidence of the composers represented here.
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