Three 20th-century American symphonic scores magnificently performed and recorded.
CORIGLIANO: Symphony No. 1; TORKE: Bright Blue Music; COPLAND: Appalachian Spring (Suite) – National Orch. Institute Philharmonic/David Alan Miller – Naxos American Classics 8.559782, 73:58 *****:
This is a varied cross-section of American orchestral works of the 20th century superbly performed and recorded. The amateur musicians of the National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic (NOIP) are selected each year through rigorous international auditions and spend a month in intensive training at the Clarice Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Maryland. This process has continued for 29 years. Its conductor, David Alan Miller, has led the Albany Symphony since 1992 and made many recordings of significant American symphonic scores in the acoustically perfect Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in Albany, New York. The performances are the equal of any major professional orchestra. This CD is a testament to how well student musicians can perform today.
John Corigliano (b. 1938) has walked the fine line of musical composing: traditional enough to appeal to current audiences (Elegy (1965), modern enough to satisfy his colleagues and (most) critics (the Clarinet Concerto of 1977), and choosing subjects for his works that connect with American culture (Pied Piper Fantasy, his flute concerto of 1978-9). In an age of populism, that’s no mean feat and it has resulted in many performances of his works.
The major work (almost 41 minutes) here is his Symphony No. 1 (1989) a composition that commemorates friends of Corigliano who died in the Aids epidemic of the 1980s and ‘90s. It still is performed today (the Los Angeles Philharmonic toured it last year), and is a tribute to its musical substance and the memory of those who lost their lives in the epidemic. The first three movements remember specific musician-friends of the composer and an Epilogue interweaves ideas from the first three. Apologue: Of Rage and Remembrance vacillates between angry percussive rants and quieter memories of profound sadness. In Tarantella, Corigliano “pictures some of the schizophrenic and hallucinatory images [and moments of lucidity] that would have accompanied that madness” of the disease. Chaconne: Giulio’s Song remembers a friend who was a cello player. The cello and strings create a plangent elegy until brass and a relentless drum beat become a raging funeral march. A quiet Epilogue ends this work. This symphony is a powerful remembrance and tribute of emotional substance to the horrible Aids epidemic.
The mood changes abruptly with Michael Torke’s Bright Blue Music of 1985. Torke (b. 1961) has been called a “post-minimalist” composer whose music is tonal and influenced by pop and rock music. He connects music with colors, a characteristic called synesthesia. In Bright Blue Music, Torke comments, “The key of the piece, D major (from which there is no true modulation) has been the color for me since I was five years old.” This nine- minute work is melodic, rhythmically vital and colorfully orchestrated. It’s a great prelude to the final work on this disc, the suite from Copland’s Appalachian Spring.
When at a first rehearsal, Copland asked Choreographer Martha Graham where she got the name for the ballet that Copland had composed for her. She replied, “From a poem by Hart Crane.” “Does it have anything to do with the ballet,” he asked? “No,” she said, “I just liked the title and took it.” Copland’s ballet, based on Pennsylvania Shaker lore, is now part of his ‘populist’ legacy, including the glorious Shaker hymn, “Tis the Gift to be Simple” that ends the suite. It’s unique in American music—one of the few works beloved by both critics and audiences. Conductor David Alan Miller’s tempos are broad, letting the music breathe and allowing the composer’s clear textures and melodic warmth to be fully revealed. The NOIP plays magnificently and recording engineer Antonino D’Urzo provides a luxuriant but transparent soundstage.
This is a magnificent recording of significant 20th century American orchestral works.