JACK GALLAGHER: Diversions Overture; Berceuse; Sinfonietta; Symphony in One Movement: Threnody – London Symphony Orchestra/ Jo Ann Falletta, conductor – Naxos 8.559652, 63:47 *****:
How the music of Jack Gallagher, currently Olive Williams Kettering Professor of Music at the College of Wooster in Ohio, escaped me, I have no idea. His teachers and master class instructors span the gamut of Elie Siegmeister, Robert Palmer, Burrill Phillips, Karel Husa, Thea Musgrave, Ned Rorem, Aaron Copland, George Crumb, and William Bolcom. It shouldn’t be hard to come up with some fresh ideas after associating with that bunch, and that proves the case here in this wonderfully varied program that displays to good effect the variety of music that Gallagher has created. None of it will pose any major problems for even the most conservative of listeners, but this is not to say the music is without substance. It just happens to be very accessible, tonal, melodic, and, well, very good.
The Diversions Overture is a piece taken primarily from the third and last movement of the composer’s Diversions written initially for symphonic band. It has that airy Coplandesque feeling to it with a hint of Harris nostalgia, but when we enter into the main theme we are in a purely rollicking and energetic statement that latches on and won’t let go. This is a terrific curtain raiser for any venue.
Berceuse is a small orchestra work of great lyricism—actually a lullaby—written for the daughter of some of the composer’s friends, originally on piano and later expanded for orchestra. Sinfonietta for String Orchestra is the longest work on this disc, and grew out of the Two Pieces for String Orchestra (1989-90), finally being added to and revised from 2006-2009. This is a five-movement work of great substance and beauty, hearkening back in some respects to the English pastoralists, and in some aspects hinting at parts of Bartok’s Divertimento, also for string orchestra.
The Symphony in One Movement: Threnody is from 1991 and revised in 2008. It is basically in two sections (slow and fast) and starts with desolating loneliness sparked by solitary strings, which resolves into a more resolute and determined dance-like sections that almost reminds one of a controlled mania in its mixed meter and percussion-laden episodes. The piece is colorfully scored and brilliantly balanced among all instrumental sections, ending with a thud after a series of Psycho-style knife slashes. This is truly a work of genius and would be worth the price of the disc by itself.
The LSO is in pretty fair form except in some of the more tricky and exposed passages in the Sinfonietta (probably due to limited rehearsal time) and in general are captured very well in the famous Abbey Road Studio One. Jo Ann Falletta, easily one of my favorite conductors, guides her forces with ease and assurance, obviously loving every moment of this terrific music. If you buy only one disc of new music this year, I would certainly suggest this as the place to begin.
— Steven Ritter
Romantic Piano Music from early 1900s…