09 Hamilton HartySongs by Sir Hamilton Harty
Kathryn Rudge; Christopher Glynn
Somm Recordings SOMMCD 0616 (naxosdirect.com/search/748871061620)

I’m a longtime admirer of Hamilton Harty’s distinctively Irish-sounding orchestral works, especially his unfairly neglected Piano Concerto, so I welcomed the opportunity to hear and review this CD containing 23 songs, nearly half his total output, 16 recorded for the first time.

Set to words by 17 poets, including W.B. Yeats, Padraic Colum, Walt Whitman and Harty himself, the songs range across Ireland’s natural landscapes, love, lullabies, work, worship, war and death. Many are infused with the traditional melodic turns, lilt and sentiment we immediately identify as so uniquely and ingratiatingly Irish.

English mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge’s shiny, firmly focused voice surges thrillingly in the more dramatic songs, while she’s sensitively subdued in the tender or reflective selections, varying her vocal colours, always acting the texts.

The piano accompaniments are elaborate and fully fleshed, not surprising because Harty, in addition to his distinguished career as a conductor, performed as piano accompanist (he preferred the term “collaborator”) for violinist Fritz Kreisler, tenor John McCormack, soprano Agnes Nicholls (his wife) and mezzo Elsie Swinton (his purported mistress), the latter two for whom he composed many of his songs. Pianist Christopher Glynn “collaborates” admirably, adding, on his own, two charming salon-like solo piano pieces by Harty, one in its first recording.

Harty’s lustrous, warm-hearted songs surely deserve to be included in the repertoires of today’s vocal recitalists and the CD collections of lovers of beautiful music, like you! Detailed notes and texts are provided.

10 Kastalsky RequiemAlexander Kastalsky – Requiem
Soloists; Choirs; Orchestra of St. Luke’s; Leonard Slatkin
Naxos 8.574245 (naxosdirect.com/search/747313424573)

Alexander Kastalsky’s vision for his grand Requiem for Fallen Brothers – which included all those who died in WWI on both sides – was summarily snuffed out because by the time he was ready to unveil it on stage, in 1917, political power in Russia was in the hands of the Bolsheviks. More tragically his cross-cultural, 17-movement requiem – a work of immense proportion in which he weaves not only Latin and Orthodox rites in multiple languages, but even manages to use Eastern music, seamlessly and with dark grandiosity – remains virtually unknown within the canon of Western classical choral-orchestral works.

Appropriately, this definitive recording, featuring the Orchestra of St. Luke’s conducted by Leonard Slatkin, brings together a spectrum of players including the Cathedral Choral Society, the Clarion Choir, the Saint Tikhon Choir and the Kansas City Chorale, who illuminate the work’s breathtaking array of meditative, sparse and nimble sonorities. 

This is a highly reverential recording, distinguished by exquisite solo contributions from soprano Anna Dennis and bass-baritone Joseph Charles Beutel, supported with fine choral work by all of the vocal ensembles. Together they turn this awe-inspiring requiem into something truly memorable from the darkness of the Confutatis and the following Lacrymosa, the undulant Interludium: Hymn to Indra and the magnificent Domine Jesu. Through it all, Slatkin reveals the inner logic and structural grandeur of this complex work with exemplary clarity and inner detail.

11 Ethel SmythDame Ethel Smyth – The Prison
Dashon Burton; Sarah Brailey; Experiential Chorus; Experiential Orchestra; James Blachly
Chandos CHSA 5279 (naxosdirect.com/search/095115527924) 

Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) was an English composer with a large and varied compositional output that includes several operas, sonatas, works for strings, choral works and a mass. The Prison is a vocal symphony for soprano, bass-baritone, chorus and orchestra that was premiered and conducted by Smyth in 1931. Based on the libretto The Prison: A Dialogue by philosopher Henry Bennet Brewster, Smyth’s lifelong friend and mentor, the symphony tells the story of a prisoner in solitary confinement who dialogues poignantly with his soul about his innocence and imminent death. Dashon Burton (The Prisoner), Sarah Brailey (His Soul) and the Experiential Orchestra and Chorus offer a raw performance that is both stirring and compelling.

Overall, Smyth’s writing is rich and complex and very much reminiscent of an important influence in her life, the Brahms symphonies. In the first part, the prisoner’s feelings of dread are powerfully captured in the brass section with dark-timbred percussive bursts. This is in contrast to the second part, where the prisoner seems to find liberation in the acceptance of his faith in the more ethereal sonorities of his soul. Smyth composed The Prison while grieving the loss of Brewster and progressively becoming deaf, thus prematurely ending her career as a composer. There are several parallels made between this work and her personal life. 

(Re)discovering forgotten composers can be frustrating when primary resources are scarce or when the composer’s output turns out to be less than exciting. In Smyth, we find not only a compelling individual, but a woman who left behind thousands of letters ready to be studied. Hers is a legacy still waiting to be revealed.

12 Eriks EsenbaldsĒriks Ešenvalds – Translations
Portland State Chamber Choir; Ethan Sperry
Naxos 8.574124 (naxosdirect.com/search/747313412471)

Award-winning Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds is a superb younger generation choral composer who writes with feeling, lyricism, layered complexity and the skill to also create sad sounds that are soothing and comforting at the same time. It is thrilling to hear him expand the very strong and thriving choral tradition of the three Baltic nations.

This is the second recording of his music by the Portland State Chamber Choir, under the direction of Ethan Sperry. Sperry and his university ensemble perform with intellect, texture and passion. The seven works here are not easy to interpret due to language, diverse texts, wide-ranging tonality and multiple-part writing. 

Highlights include The Heavens’ Flock (2014) with its almost folk-song singalong quality, full tonal harmonies, occasional high soprano pitches and calming repeated ending. Translation (2016) has a darker, reflective mood. Slow but never boring, the harmonies keep the listener’s attention until the closing singing handbells’ final ring. Vineta (2009) opens with a choral pedal on E, as the volume builds with attention-grabbling contemporary tonalities and the use of mesmerizing ringing vibes and glockenspiel, and solo bass drum for unexpected rewarding effects. For In paradisum (2012), Ešenvalds adds viola and cello. A devastating solo cello line with full choral backdrop adds to the grief sentiment. An unforgettable minimalistic atonal string duet closes the work above a spectacular low, pianissimo choral drone.

The moving compositions, clear production and youthful singing make Translations a memorable choral release.

13 Missy MazzoliMissy Mazzoli; Royce Vavrek – Proving Up
Opera Omaha; International Contemporary Ensemble; Christopher Rountree
PentaTone PTC 5186 754 (naxosdirect.com/search/827949075469)

Right from the opening of this grim, gripping opera, reality mingles with fantasy. In a hearty invocation to the great American Dream, Pa Zegner (the alluring baritone John Moore) sings, “Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm.” Meanwhile, eerie sounds creep in from the orchestra. It’s clear Pa is deluded. 

It’s the 1860s. Pa and his family have been lured to the Nebraska prairies by the promise of free land offered by the recent Homestead Act. But two young daughters have already died. The land is dry and barren. The weather is nasty. And Uncle Sam’s requirements – including a glass window – are proving mighty difficult to fulfill. 

American composer Missy Mazzoli and Canadian librettist Royce Vavrek have transformed a disturbing But Mazzoli’s writing is fresh, original and enticingly contemporary. With sixthe full libretto.

02 TelemannTelemann – Concertos & Ouverture
Arion Orchestre Baroque; Alexander Weimann
ATMA ACD2 2789 (naxosdirect.com/search/acd2+2789)

Georg Philipp Telemann was a prolific composer. One commentator made the astonishing claim that the sheer quantity of Telemann’s compositions is more than all the works of Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert combined! Yet the self-taught, self-made Telemann was not just an ordinary workaholic. He was also recognized as a master of many of the international and regional musical styles of his era, a kind of Baroque transnational genre fusionist. In his works for the church, opera and the emerging German public concert scene, his skillfully orchestrated scores were seldom pro forma. They typically exhibit clear melodies, buoyant dance rhythms, adventurous harmonies and exploit mood and drama. 

Montreal’s Arion Orchestre Baroque (founded in 1981) makes a strong case for the three Telemann works on this album. Quebec recorder virtuoso Vincent Lauzer tears into the first track of Concerto in C Major with youthful gusto. The spirited fourth movement Tempo di minuet sets the stage for Lauzer’s displays of speed double tonguing, crisp arpeggios and dramatic octave leaps – performed with lyrical grace and aplomb.

Bassoonist and conductor Mathieu Lussier joins Lauzer in the double Concerto in F Major. The playful four-movement work pits the penetrating treble recorder against the characteristically muffled-sounding Baroque bassoon, an example of the composer’s interest in unusual sonic combinations. 

Telemann’s ten-movement Overture in G Major – one of his 200 (sic) Overtures – is influenced by the French Baroque style he admired and includes a pastoral trio of two oboes and a bassoon. It receives its premiere recording here. 

I’m pleased to report that Telemann’s witty and engaging music, composed more than 250 years ago, lifted my clouded pandemic mood. It has the power to uplift other music lovers too.

03 Beethoven LisztBeethoven – Complete Symphonies transcribed for piano by Franz Liszt
Michel Dalberto, Jean-Claude Pennetier, Alain Planès; Paul Badura-Skoda
Harmonia Mundi HMX2931192.98 (harmoniamundi.com/#!/albums/2643)

For over 25 years, Franz Liszt undertook the task of transcribing Beethoven’s symphonies for the piano, not merely transferring the notes from one instrument to another but reworking and recomposing these great works entirely. The material is unchanged – Beethoven’s melodic and harmonic content remain intact – but the approach is different, as necessitated by the reduction of 20-or-so instrumental parts down to two hands.

It is important to consider that when Liszt made these transcriptions the concept of the symphony orchestra was not nearly as ubiquitous as it is today, and there was no recording technology available to capture these incredible works for posterity; a performance was a one-time event, in the truest sense of the idea. If people wanted to listen to Beethoven in their living rooms, they had to do the work themselves, playing the notes live on their own pianos. By making these transcriptions, Liszt was enabling pianists everywhere to hear this great composer’s symphonies as often as they were willing to play them, while hopefully garnering himself a reasonable sum in royalties.

To those of us in the 21st century for whom accessing any one of the 10,000 recordings of Beethoven’s symphonies is as easy as pushing play, can these pianistic oddities have any relevance? Strangely, yes – but not in the straightforward way we might think. Liszt’s transcriptions have the effect of taking the immensity of the orchestra and distilling it into a chamber-sized sound, akin to a piano sonata rather than a symphony. Listening to pianist Paul Badura-Skoda tackle the legendary Fifth Symphony, for example, one is struck by how much his interpretation resembles a long-lost cousin to the Pathétique.

While this recording may be more of a novelty item than a standard must-have collectible, those who are familiar with Beethoven’s symphonic essays will appreciate hearing them in a different way, from the inside out, perhaps, rather than the outside in.

04 Weber ClarinetWeber – Symphonies; Clarinet Concertos
Joan Enric Lluna; Berliner Camerata
IBS Classical IBS222019 (naxosdirect.com/search/8436589069961)

Oh, allow the clarinet player his argument in favour of Carl Maria von Weber. This younger contemporary of Beethoven, precursor to Wagner, has been afforded an unfortunate and unfair place in the pantheon, close to the fire exit, on the way to the restrooms. 

But just listen to the powerful bass-y recording released by the Berlin Camerata, featuring Joan Enric Lluna as soloist and conductor in the Clarinet Concertos, Nos.1 in F Minor and 2 in E-flat Major. It’s as though the vengeful ghost of Weber has come to remind us: he was all that then, and he is still all that. Not for Lluna and the team any polite, apologetic renditions of this stuff: it is, as they say, junk out. It’s great to hear, for once, musicians who agree Weber is kind of wild, and requires that approach in order to be heard as intended. 

The microphone work is an integral part of this approach. You’ll hear everything as if you were sitting not just near, but within the band. The very first sound from the clarinetist is an inhale, and such a hungry, lüstig breath Lluna takes. Weber orchestrated with verve and wit. The Camerata players are given license to kill it, and we hear all the voicings as characters in an opera. Listen to the horns! Listen to the gutty strings! 

The liner notes written by Josep Dolcet are instructive; Lluna’s own brief addition pays respect to Weber the dramatist, and labels the soloist as the diva! There is a companion CD included of the rarely heard symphonies from the younger Weber.

05 Leipzig CircleThe Leipzig Circle Vol.II – Chamber Music by Felix, Clara & Robert
London Bridge Trio
Somm Recordings SOMMCD 0619 (naxosdirect.com/search/748871061927)

Leipzig – like Vienna, a city of music! Not only did Bach reside there as cantor at the Thomaskirche for 27 years, but the city also witnessed the birth of Clara Schumann, the arrival of her husband from Zwickau to study law (but later, piano), and the arrival of Mendelssohn to conduct the renowned Gewandhaus Orchestra. Such is the basis for this splendid recording on the Somm label, the second one to feature the London Bridge Trio, this time performing piano trios by Mendelssohn and Robert and Clara Schumann.

Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio Op.49 – his first of two – was composed in Leipzig in 1839, and has long been regarded as a supreme example of the genre. The impassioned first movement is all freshness and spontaneity, the intricate interplay deftly handled by the three performers. The second movement is a true song without words, while the scherzo and allegro finale contain the graceful brilliance that so typifies Mendelssohn’s chamber style.

Clara Schumann enjoyed a long career as an outstanding concert pianist, but her own compositions remain unjustifiably neglected. Nevertheless, her Trio Op.17 – considered by many to be her greatest work – demonstrates great originality and not surprisingly, a formidable piano part, adroitly handled by Daniel Tong.

From the buoyant exuberance of the first movement, the heartfelt lyricism of the second and the cheerful optimism of the finale, Robert Schumann’s Trio Op.80 from 1847 truly embodies the Romantic spirit – little wonder the piece has earned such high praise over the years. Throughout, the London Bridge Trio performs with great panache, demonstrating a sensitive but confident approach in this most intimate repertoire. This disc is a delight!

06 Si SonatasSi! Sonatas
Leticia Gómez-Tagle
ARS Produktion ARS38270 (leticiagomeztagle.no-te.com) 

Sonatas by Chopin, Liszt and Domenico Scarlatti are featured on this Ars Produktion recording titled Si! Sonatas with Mexican-born pianist Leticia Gómez-Tagle. While most of us realize the word “Si” is Spanish for “yes” it also refers to B minor, the key in which all three pieces were written. The title was chosen by the artist herself, but even without the play on words and tenuous connection, the program is an attractive one.

Chopin’s Sonata No.3 Op.58 was completed in 1844, a time when the composer was at the height of his creative powers. The piece has long been regarded as one of his most difficult, not only with respect to the technical demands, but also to nuance. To say the least, Gómez-Tagle rises to the challenges in a very big way. She delivers an elegant and polished performance, her formidable technique further enhanced by a beautiful tone and fine use of phrasing.

The Sonata in B Minor by Franz Liszt is acknowledged as one of the powerhouses of 19th-century piano repertoire; fiendishly difficult, the piece presents technical challenges even greater than those of the Chopin sonata. Again – and not surprisingly – Gómez-Tagle meets the demands with apparent ease, creating a mood of thrilling dramatic intensity throughout.

In total contrast to the two Romantic giants is an encore – the Scarlatti Sonata K87, a gentle miniature written a century earlier. Here, Gómez-Tagle’s delicate and precise approach is clear evidence that she is as comfortable with Baroque repertoire as she is with that from later periods. Superb sound quality throughout further enhances an exemplary recording. Highly recommended.

Listen to 'Si! Sonatas' Now in the Listening Room

07 Villa LobosPiano Works by Heitor Villa-Lobos
Flavio Varani
Azur Classical AZC 175 (ciar.e-monsite.com)

Even today, the piano music of Villa-Lobos remains an untapped trove that suggests something of the exotic. Despite the popularity of a handful of his works such as the Bachianas Brasileiras series, Villa-Lobos’ prodigious output for his own instrument boasts much unfamiliar music, thereby requiring a devotional sort of elucidation.

Apparently up to such a task is veteran pianist (and native Brazilian), Flavio Varani. He brings an unusual commingling of old-school romanticism and ardent, fiery command to his new disc where accompaniments leap and melodies spring about the keyboard. Varani’s training as a student at the Juilliard School with the great Rosina Lhevinne – and subsequently Arthur Balsam – reveals an integral approach to his art and a careful conception of pianistic lineage in general. The listener is aware that Varani has lived long and purposefully with the music of his homeland; the relationship of composer and interpreter here recalls the great association John Browning, (also a Lhevinne student), had with Samuel Barber.

Villa-Lobos’ strange and exotic piano calls to us from unexpected pieces throughout this record: Chôros No.1 W161 “Chôro tipico brasileiro” (a transcription from guitar) and the Danças características africanas W085 are examples. Conversely, Varani chooses the oft-loved eighth piece from Cirandas W220, “Vamos atrás da serra, Calunga,” as epilogue.

Regrettably, the recording quality here is not of the highest calibre. Levels are noticeably out of balance and extraneous studio noises disturb the overall flow of an otherwise convincing disc.

09 Dinnerstein QuietA Character of Quiet – Schubert; Glass
Simone Dinnerstein
Orange Mountain Music (orangemountainmusic.com) 

Admittedly feeling “anxious and enervated” during the early days of lockdown in March and April, pianist Simone Dinnerstein has confessed that she felt neither “creative” nor “productive.” In time however, with the help of poets Wordsworth and Melville and walks through her local cemetery – the hallowed Green-Wood of Brooklyn – she found her way back to the piano. In June, she sat down to record the music of two composers she has held a close connection with: Philip Glass and Franz Schubert. (And we are so very glad that she did!)

From the first note of this “quiet” and remarkable album (recorded in her New York home with longtime producer and friend Adam Abeshouse), the listener feels as if ferried to a private audience with Dinnerstein. Therein we are greeted with soloistic utterances on a wholly intimate order, sincere and sublime. With this unassuming recording, Dinnertsein seems to have evolved a new kind of homemade listening: she has managed to capture the immediacy and depth of experience – of character – that a one-on-one house recital can deliver. Here we glimpse the personal, as procured by the pandemic.

Even the three Glass Etudes, (music and a composer that this particular reviewer is often bemused by), speak in an honest and poignant mode, somehow changed by our planet’s new energy, reshaped by a hushed and isolated atmosphere surrounding Glass’ simple patterns and motifs.

Dinnerstein’s Schubert is always formidable and especially unique. Her performance here of the mighty last Sonata in B-flat Major D960 bears no exception, possessing an inescapable message of radiance and poetry, humanity and continuance.

Ultimately, Dinnerstein’s musicianship is one born of integrity. Through forced pause and quietude she has, indubitably, discovered new aspects to her art. Let us hope for more such recordings, as we marvel at her courage and savour the nourishment it brings us in these weary, unwanted times.

Note: The recording’s title was inspired by William Wordsworth’s The Prelude, a poem Dinnerstein became familiar with during lockdown. It refers to “A character of quiet more profound than pathless wastes.” Dinnerstein muses: “Perhaps I had been parted too long from my better self by the hurrying world, as Wordsworth puts it.”

01 Shostakovich QuintetShostakovich – Piano Quintet; Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok
Trio Wanderer; Ekaterina Semenchuk
Harmonia Mundi HMM902289 (triowanderer.fr/discography)

The public, generally, does not leave a performance (or a deep listening session to a recording) of the work of the late Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich whistling tuneful melodies. But who made tuneful whistling the barometer for success in classical music anyway? Certainly not the legions of Shostakovich admirers, for whom this 2020 release – of his Piano Quintet in G Minor Op.57 (1940) and Seven Romances on Poems by Aleksander Blok Op.127 (1967) by Trio Wanderer (Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian, violin; Raphaël Pidoux, cello; and Vincent Coq, piano) – will be most welcome. For the quintet, the trio is joined by violinist Catherine Montier and violist Christophe Gaugué and the Romances are sung by the commanding mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk.

With the piano quintet, Shostakovich presents a test of technical prowess and historical understanding to the musicians, as they deftly negotiate the multiple lexicons that comprise the composer’s influences and, ultimately, his style. For example, contained within the quintet’s five-part structure (Prélude: Lento; Fugue: Adagio; Scherzo: Allegretto; Intermezzo: Lento; Finale: Allegretto) are motifs, broad musical themes and harmonic junctures revelatory of Shostakovich’s unabashed modernism (his so-called “ambivalent tonality” and deep admiration of Stravinsky), placed in compelling historical flux with Baroque gestures (counterpoint abounds, and there is even a G-major Tierce de Picardie that concludes the opening Prelude), along with the general, and lifelong, influence of Russian folk songs. This is the much-discussed polystylism of Shostakovich; the quintet handles such musical shapeshifting between genre and historical junctures with musicality, precision and seeming ease. 

Equally compelling is the Seven Romances song cycle, where the great and sought-after Semenchuk, singing in the composer’s (and poet  Blok’s) native Russian, shines. A recommended recording.

02 Shostakovich 11Shostakovich – Symphony No.11, Op.103 “The Year 1905”
BBC Philharmonic, John Storgårds
Chandos CHSA 5278 CD/SACD (naxosdirect.com/search/095115527825)

Shostakovich wrote this symphony during 1956-1957 to commemorate a horrific event from the year before his birth. On January 9, 1905 between 10,000 and 20,000 workers and their families, suffering the miseries inflicted upon them by Russia’s rush to industrialize, converged upon Tsar Nicholas II’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg with a petition. The Tsar was not there and had left no one in the palace to receive any petition. On Bloody Sunday, the Tsar’s cavalry dutifully cut down 200 of their undefended countrymen. 

If you are not familiar with this symphony, it has a program. The first movement depicts the serenity and mood of the spacious palace square. The second movement, titled The Ninth of January, begins quietly and devolves to the determined brutality and slaughter of the workers. The Tsar wins the day. The third movement contains an adagio that depicts the growing resolve within the survivors. The fourth is enigmatic. There are unmistakable overtones of an impending final confrontation, then the triumphant jubilation of the closing pages of the finale moves the listener 13 years ahead to the day that Tsar Nicholas II, the last Tsar, and his family (minus one) were themselves slaughtered. This movement is titled The Tocsin, a warning bell. Was the composer intending the finale with its statement of victory really as a reference to a historical event, or a warning of another, yet-to-be victory? 

Finnish maestro John Storgårds is the principal guest conductor of the BBC Philharmonic and one of the busiest around. As the saying goes, he was born to conduct this symphony. He totally embraces the entire work from the tranquility and the real sense of open space in the opening adagio to the jubilant fourth movement. Not one note is wasted. The second movement is all the more powerful due to Storgårds’ appropriate, unhurried tempi and balances between strings, brass and percussion. He leans on the brass to powerful effect. The third movement, In Memoriam, allows Storgårds to broaden the tempo to meaningful declarations. The final movement concludes with a jubilant celebration reinforced with four sonorous church bells in the orchestra, an organ and high spirits. 

The sound from Chandos is extraordinary. I was listening to the SACD layer in stereo and there were the musicians and the orchestra. I could “see” the flute, the basses, the timpani, the cellos, in truth every instrument exactly where they were in real three dimensions. But they remain in the fabric of the ensemble. No fatigue. Perfect dynamics. 

Get a copy. See for yourself.

03 Fin du tempsFin du Temps
Estellés; Iturriagagoitia; Apellániz; Rosado
IBS Classical IBS72020 (naxosdirect.com/search/8436589069404)

Clarinetist José Luis Estellés is joined by violinist Aitzol Iturriagagoitia, cellist David Apellániz and pianist Alberto Rosado on this recording of the two best-known, thematically linked quartets for these instruments: Quatuor pour la fin du Temps by Olivier Messiaen, and Toru Takemitsu’s compositional response, Quatrain II

Recently, Messiaen, a Catholic mystic, has come under posthumous criticism for at least passively upholding a stance of anti-Semitism. These days it might be too controversial to even discuss the religiosity that fills his music. It’s safe to say both he and Takemitsu attempted the impossible: to demonstrate timelessness with the essentially time-bound art of musical performance. 

The more recent piece almost succeeds in simulating the “Fin du Temps” proposed by the earlier. With veiled and obvious references to Messiaen, Takemitsu’s piece seems to sit still and reflect. For contrast, turn to the sixth movement of the Messiaen, and listen to the Danse de la fureur pour les sept trompettes; it’s so rhythmically exacting to perform, and so exciting. The listener is bound by time, not released. But it’s fantastic, and fantastically presented here. Overall the recording rides on the high partials generated by the four different voices, by which I mean it is bright, but never strident. Well, except as the movement closes, where apocalyptic trumpets signal the end.

One is bound to assess the performance of the solo clarinet movement: Abîme des Oiseaux. No vanity mars this performance; if there are warts in the presentation of the crescendi and diminuendi over extreme sustains, the minute wavers that mark us as human, they do nothing to diminish the clarity of intent and finely wrought performance.

04 Rouse Symphony 5Christopher Rouse – Symphony No.5
Nashville Symphony; Giancarlo Guerrero
Naxos 8.559852 (naxosdirect.com/search/636943985229) 

Few works carry such weighty baggage as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. If a composer chooses to tackle the symphonic form in their output, and further manages to compose so many as five, one can choose to ignore this baggage or attempt to meet it head on. 

In his Fifth Symphony, American composer Christopher Rouse, who died in September 2019, decidedly chose the latter. With a Grammy and a Pulitzer to his name, the celebrated composer shows that he was not intimidated by large forms as the work balances tradition and modernity with impressive prowess. The listener is clearly provided with classical reminiscences while also being transported through a contemporary sensibility of vast turbulence and serene calm. 

Also on the disc are two restless pieces titled Supplica and Concerto for Orchestra. The former is lyrical and tender while the latter is a true orchestral showpiece where all players of the orchestra have their chance to shine. Already being one of the most performed composers of his generation, this disc shows that Rouse’s legacy will no doubt continue on well into the future.

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