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George ROCHBERG (1918-2005)
Symphony No. 2 (1955-56) [31:28]
Imago Mundi (1973) [24:06]
Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Lyndon-Gee
rec. Großes Sendesaal, Funkhaus Halberg,
Saarbrücken, Germany, 19-20 Dec 2000 (Symphony); 30 Jan 2001 (Imago). DDD
NAXOS 8.559182 [55.34]


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Rather like William Schuman, George Rochberg played in jazz bands as a student. He was born in Paterson, New Jersey and was an accomplished pianist. War service in Europe saw him seriously wounded while serving as a captain during the Battle of the Bulge. Returning after a year's recuperation he studied at Mannes with Szell who was to premiere the same Rochberg Second Symphony we hear on this disc.

Rochberg's music is not new to Naxos. There are two other discs all recorded at Saarbrücken by the same team: the Fifth Symphony, Black Sounds and Transcendental Variations on 8.559115 and the Violin Concerto 8.559129. The hour long First Symphony (1948-49) will follow soon on 8.559214.

The Second Symphony is in a single continuous movement here sensibly tracked into five sections Declamando, Allegro scherzoso, Adagio, Quasi tempo primo ma capriccioso, Coda - Adagio sostenuto e calmo. It was the first twelve tone symphony composed by an American. At the end the work finds a sort of peace mingled with foreboding and discontent. Before that there is a lot of anger in this work as we can hear from the Declamando first movement. Where did this come from? The notes quote from Rochberg's biography mentioning his disillusion with America's tawdry commercialism and its self-serving artistic community. He also admitted that his war experiences had given a curvature to the work.

Twenty years later Rochberg was still at his Philadelphia Newtown Square address (where he died in April 2005) to respond to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's commission with Imago Mundi. This is an extended continuous work heavily influenced by the arcana of the Japanese royal court. Rochberg had studied the material during a sponsored visit to Japan. Superficially there are some ‘comfort points’ shared with the Gagaku-inspired works of Cowell and especially Hovhaness ... but Rochberg is different. Here the unusual tonal material is subtly swung and metamorphosed in a Daliesque way with the original style not lost but warped and melted into a fantastic landscape. Rochberg is noticeably the same composer who wrote the Violin Concerto. Dissonances are present but are not as extreme as they are in the Second Symphony.

The documentation is excellent. The recording has plenty of bite - a satisfying if challenging listen especially in the case of the Symphony.

Rob Barnett







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