For those of us
who are lovers of Christopher Rouse’s orchestral music, particularly
his earlier scores, this is cause for celebration. This very
well received disc was released in 1997, only to disappear pretty
well straight away – so firstly a big thanks to Phoenix for
the rescue job.
The pieces are all
quintessential Rouse from this period in that they contain a
lot of loud, brash, rhythmically visceral music, much of it
indebted to seminal works such as The Rite of Spring and
Birtwistle’s Earth Dances, as well as elements of pop
and rock music. There is also much that is subtle, and the central
work, the Trombone Concerto, has a good deal of these
qualities. Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for its
150th anniversary, this Pulitzer Prize-winning piece
is dedicated to the memory of Leonard Bernstein, who died in
1990 as Rouse had begun work on the score. It actually quotes
in places from Bernstein’s Kaddish Symphony and there
are also allusions to Copland – who had also died later the
same year – as well as Mahler and Shostakovich. It’s a deeply
impressive work. The first movement’s main theme rises out of
a rumbling, primordial depth before giving way to more lyrical
material as the trombone stutters its way into the light. The
scherzo has that rhythmic energy typical of Rouse, with the
trombone and orchestra quite literally appearing to ‘laugh’
mockingly at each other (tr.2, 1:40) before we enter a finale
employing a solemn, hymn-like phrase with powerful variations.
The music descends at the end back to the depths whence it came,
the full circle complete.
is excellent, with the virtuosic and concentrated playing of
Joseph Alessi and has real virtue. The Colorado Orchestra is
stretched to its limits but is expertly guided by Marin Alsop,
a name new to most of us over here at this time. This is not
the first recording, and the formidable rival on BIS, with that
champion of the modern trombone Christian Lindberg as soloist,
has better sound. But Alsop and Alessi are easily as satisfying
musically and the Phoenix disc has, for me, a better balance
orchestral showpiece Gorgon stretches everyone
even further, especially the engineers. Its battery of percussion
will give your audio system a workout and I agree with liner
writer Mark Swed that this piece is ‘an attempt to take Rouse’s
attraction towards fast, loud and wild music to its terrifying
ultimate’. It’s an incredible assault on the senses, imaginative
and grimly compelling, and as Gramophone said at the time –
play loud, or not at all!
provides a welcome contrast, being more lightly scored and slower
moving. The composer has spoken of this piece as ‘purging certain
emotional memories from my system’ and its Ivesian string sonorities
lend it a certain melancholic, reflective aura. It is dedicated
to John Adams, who conducted the premiere, but does not seem
influenced by that composer’s style, at least not to my ears.
Again, it’s well played and the recording copes rather better
with the sound-picture than Gorgon, which is cut at a
slightly low level to cope with the enormous extremes.
the ideal introduction to Rouse’s music and its return to the
catalogue is very welcome.