A wonderful look at this composer’s more recent style.

MICHAEL TORKE: Three Manhattan Bridges; Winter’s Tale for cello and orchestra – Joyce Yang, p./Julie Albers, cello/Albany Sym. Orch./David Alan Miller – Albany TROY 1643, 57:24 (9/01/16) ****:

I have appreciated Michael Torke’s music for many years now, going all the way to back to his idiomatic ‘color’ pieces (like Ecstatic Orange, et al) which were created in a sort of bouncy and ‘optimistic’ minimalism with shades of jazz. However, if that it is the only iteration of Michael’s music that one is familiar with then we are missing the growth of his very unique and captivating style.

These two pieces are about as far from that much earlier ‘para-minimalist’ brand as one could get. Both Three Manhattan Bridges as well as Winter’s Tale are essentially concertos for piano and orchestra and cello and orchestra, respectively.

Three Manhattan Bridges is structured in three movements that create almost a musical painting of the feel of three neighborhoods and moods landmarked by three of the most famous – and most often traversed – bridges that lead in and out of Manhattan; the George Washington Bridge, the Queensboro Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge. This is both such a ‘New York piece’ but also a terrific suite or concerto in which the piano plays almost a commentator on the majesty and feel of these bridges and the worlds they connect. I liked this work a lot and Joyce Yang plays with feeling and conviction throughout.

Winter’s Tale takes its inspiration from quite a different source; each of the five movements is a reflection on; or a bridge between, important lines in the Shakespeare play of the same name. Torke’s choice is interesting in that this particular script by the bard is not very often performed for its very symbolic plot and its odd shift from a brooding and intense first third followed by a seemingly out of place comedic shift. Regardless, Torke’s music is fine, with a very symmetrical fast-moderate-slow-moderate-fast pace and implicit moods. Ultimately, this is a very good solo work for cello, and Torke’s writing showcases the mood of that instrument’s lush timbre quite well; thanks in large part to the wonderful playing by Julie Albers. I liked this album a lot. As I mentioned, I generally like all of Michael’s music but these works give us a great opportunity to hear his more recent and more sophisticated style. Highly recommended!

—Daniel Coombs