“Dawn to Dust” – Music of THOMAS, MUHLY, and NORMAN – Utah Sym. Orch. / Thierry Fischer – Reference Recordings

by | Apr 17, 2016 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Dawn to Dust” – Music of THOMAS, MUHLY, and NORMAN – Utah Sym. Orch. / Thierry Fischer – Reference Recordings multichannel SACD FR-719, 69:31 (4/8/16) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Notable contemporary music from Utah in a lovely recording.

Dawn To Dust contains live recordings of three significant and interesting works by leading composers Augusta Read Thomas, Nico Muhly, and Andrew Norman. Each of the three compositions is performed by the Utah Symphony under the baton of Thierry Fischer. All are world premiere recordings.

The first work on the disc is a lovely and dynamic contemporary ballet for orchestra by Ms. Thomas, called EOS – Goddess of the Dawn. It has a rich palette of orchestra sounds, The piece is in seven parts and presents musical depictions of the dawn against a background of Greek mythology.

The next work is by Muhly called Control – Five Landscapes for Orchestra. The landscapes in question are from Utah, and are inspired by the spectacular geography the state offers. I’ve just returned from a photo shoot in St. George and Bryce Canyon, Utah, so the disc came to me at an appropriate time.

Here again, there are very rich orchestrations, and evocations of the dramatic landforms Utah provides. The Red Dust movement, designed to musically reference the areas around St. George, is particularly striking.

Finally, the disc features Andrew Norman’s Switch, a work featuring a lot of percussion along with the orchestra. Percussionist Colin Currie said he felt the piece evoked being inside a pin-ball machine, a good enough metaphor for the aggressive, dynamic sound.

This disc comes from the revered Reference Recording label, and as is no surprise, it is of reference quality. The five-channel audio is very crisp, while maintaining an excellent image of the orchestra up front. The rear channels are pretty subtle, being used more for ambiance than directionality. That was a bit of a surprise, as I expected the Norman piece in particular would lend itself well to a more full surround treatment, but there’s nothing wrong with the esthetic choice the producer made by keeping everything up front. The distinctive sound of Maurice Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City is clearly identifiable in this recording.

This disc will be of interest to contemporary classical fans, or those searching for something new and unique.

I enjoyed the disc, and the recording is of very high quality. I found the two- channel CD layer to be of also excellent sound, lacking just a bit in dynamic range when the percussion instruments are playing, and a hint of smoothness in the strings.

Note: The disc is advertised as having a 5.1 mix, but my Oppo identifies it as 5.0. The CD layer supports HDCD playback if your equipment decodes it, and it does have a very slight improvement.  The disc also includes a second SACD layer in 2.0 stereo. [Most music SACDs use 5.0 channels rather than 5.1…Ed.]

—Mel Martin


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