No, NorthWest Classics is not a record label based in Seattle or Portland, but instead in NorthWest Europe – The Netherlands to be exact. They issue stereo-only SACDs of a variety of old and new music using the very best gear. (I see they monitor on my favorite headphones – the AKG K-1000s.)
I found it interesting that the label didn’t put a picture of the composer and violin soloist on the cover. Perhaps it was because he looks much younger than his present 24 years. New Baltimore Symphony conductor Marin Alsop thought to herself when first meeting him, “Oh, my god, he’s so young.” Obviously a prodigy, he began composing at age 4 and completed his first string quartet when he was 10. So even today we still have some Mozarts and Mendelssohns in our midst.
“Secret Notes,” the first work and the overall SACD title, is a concerto commissioned by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the LA Philharmonic. Simons performed the solo violin part at its 2002 premiere and is heard here. The three movement titles: Keep them in the dark, Keep silent, Leaked out. While Simons is superb in his virtuoso violin part, the composition left me cold in its conflicting, non-melodic tonality. Things picked up with the work for two pianos and orchestra. The Spanish titles translates to It’s Your Turn. Five Mexican and Cuban folk songs and dances were the basis for the work, and the two pianists fulfill the role of singers rather than soloists in a typical piano concerto.
Simons’ Symphony is a kick. Its movement titles again hint at what’s to be heard; Maniacal, Lawless, Elegiac. It crosses over many different types of music, including jazz and rock influences. The rhythmic feeling is often strong and quirky, dealing with the sort of rhythms which are often impossible to clearly indicate using standard notes and music paper. (I was reminded of this when hearing yesterday on Performance Today an attempt by a Belgian orchestra to play Bernstein’s West Side Story Suite.) Both the second and third selections on the disc receive their world premiere recordings here. Sonics are very detailed and clean, decoding well to ProLogic II surround if you wish.
– John Sunier