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
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.