“At the Far Edge” = DANIEL ASIA : Symphony #1; Symphony No. 4; At the Far Edge – New Zealand Sym. Orch. / James Sedares – Summit + catalogue

“At the Far Edge” = DANIEL ASIA : Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 4; At the Far Edge – New Zealand Sym. Orch. / James Sedares – Summit + catalogue – DCD 256, 61:57 (2/15/00) ***:

Interesting contemporary compositions but an uneven recording.

This very listenable disc from Summit Records is not a new release, but rather one from 2000. Why they sent an older release for review is a mystery (perhaps it’s a re-release?), but it’s a fine set of performances, so I have no complaint. I wanted to raise the issue of this old release up front.

Daniel Asia is an American composer, born in Seattle, and he is now head of the composition Department at the University of Arizona at Tucson. He was formerly on the faculty at Oberlin. There are three works on this disc, his Symphony No. 1, the Symphony No. 4 and a single movement composition, At the Far Edge.

The Symphony No. 1 (1987) is a work for large orchestra. It’s derived from a Piano Sonata written earlier by Asia. Of the two symphonies offered, it is the more ‘classical’ in tone and structure, although it consists of five movements. The Symphony No. 4, written in 1993 uses a smaller orchestral compliment. It is a little edgier, more forceful in dynamics, and it’s a solid work. In fact both symphonies, while different in tone, are quite listenable and interesting.

The final work on the disc, At the Far Edge (1991), is an evocative title. The work is daring in terms of rhythms and creative combinations of instruments. The work starts with a quasi-religious feeling, but soon opens up to a more exuberant and sometimes sounds a bit South American.

James Sedares and the New Zealand Symphony do a superb job on this challenging works. Sedares has had a varied and interesting career, producing many discs of contemporary music, and he’s also dabbled in film music releasing a disc of some Elmer Bernstein westerns, as well as some well-regarded classical discs of music by film composer Miklos Rozsa.

The overall sound on the disc is quite good, although the highest notes seem a bit constricted, especially when the orchestra is playing at full on volume with dense instrumentation in At the Far Edge. I don’t hear obvious distortion, but the sound becomes grainy and a bit muddy. At lower levels, everything sounds fine.

Asia is an interesting composer. This disc is as good as any as an introduction to his works, and Summit has a large catalog of the rest of his music. It’s certainly worth a listen and an exploration.

—Mel Martin

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