This composer is a man known to me only by name—I had never heard any of his music before this disc arrived. He is not exactly a stranger to recordings, but there are only a few devoted solely to his music. Still, a talent like this deserves to be heard, and I am a little embarrassed that I have not encountered him before, despite the fact that he seems quite successful particularly in the choral realm, and has had some big names perform his work. I guess you can’t hear everybody.
These two pieces date from the last 12 years, and are as fine an example of contemporary symphonic writing as I have come across in that time period. Symphony 2, originally intended as a work of “pure” music, had a type of program thrust upon it after the composer visited the forts along the coast of Ghana, Africa, and saw the dungeons where the slaves were being held for shipment to America. This impression forced its way into the work, and although only the second movement is indicative of this scene, the entire symphony has a disturbed feeling about it, the sadness and pathetic nature of the slave trade casting a sort of net over each movement. But all is not despair, and even if it were this would not be a reason to avoid this unsettling yet still oddly beautiful piece of music that ends on a note of hope.
The third symphony is a different animal completely. The composer’s comment that the piece is “lighter in approach” than the second symphony is an understatement, for the two symphonies are light years apart. Without knowing the man, I would guess that this piece is more reflective of his true nature and optimistic outlook. It has remembrances of minimalism in it, with its repetitive rhythmic arguments and flurries of melody, but this is far more substantial and developmental than any minimalist effort. The trumpet tune that opens the work serves as the take off point for the whole work, and I was absolutely delighted by every minute of this engaging piece.
The highly-augmented Grand Rapids Symphony plays this music with love and commitment, and conductor Lockington has definitely found the emotional core of both works. Naxos supplies fine sound (De Vos Performance Hall in Michigan), and for the lowjohn price you can hardly go wrong. This is one of those sleeper discs that surprise you every so often. Give it a try! The composer currently is a professor of music at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.
— Steven Ritter