Seattle-born Bolcom is
a dynamo of a creative force. To our and his benefit he has
in recent years had many of his works recorded. There are
eight symphonies written between 1957 and the present day.
In addition his catalogue comprises eleven string quartets,
four violin sonatas (all on Naxos - see review), three operas,
musical theatre pieces, two film scores (Hester Street and Illuminata)
and much else.
Much as they have with
Kernis (see review), Phoenix have struck a deal with Decca
Argo to re-release the present grievously missed disc of 1980s
first issued on Argo in the 1990s.
Bolcom’s music is laid
out with wonderful aural clarity – a delight to the ear.
The ideas draw on popular music in much the same way as Piston
(Symphony 2 and Incredible Flautist) and Barber (Souvenirs).
As we know from his Songs of Innocence and of Experience (Naxos
- see review) he has no aversion towards hybridising all
branches of modern
culture with ‘high art’. This can also be heard in the wonderfully
saturated sentimental smoochiness of much of the Violin
Concerto where Sergiu Luca’s style recalls that of Joe
Venuti and Stéphane Grappelli. Despite this ham-fisted description
much of the music evokes an ethereal ballet – Ravel’s La
Valse drifts into focus several times before falling
away. The ear-tickling Fantasia Concertante is
a drier piece with gusts, gentler asides and rhythmic ebullience
reminiscent of Beethoven; it was after all premiered in Vienna
in 1986. The Fifth Symphony was first performed by
Dennis Russell Davies and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1990.
Across four movements this is a work that breasts dissonant
storms, does a groaningly spectral Frère Jacques with Here
Comes the Bride, continues the macabre strain with a
bleakly haunted Hymne à l’Amour and in its finale Machine rises
to a thuddingly propulsive ruthlessness that recalls both
Mussorgsky and Panufnik. It is a superb work.
The disc benefits from
the composer’s own notes and updated artist profiles.
If you’ve caught the Bolcom
bug do confirm the addiction with this nicely varied collection
and let’s thank Phoenix for rescuing yet another Argo deletion.
(USA sales only)
Symphony No. 1 (1957) 18'
Premiere: Aspen Festival Orchestra, Carl Eberl conducting,
Symphony No. 2 (Oracles) (1964) 16' (MS)
Premiere: Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Milton Katims conducting,
Symphony No. 3 (1979) 35'
Premiere: St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Dennis Russell Davies
conducting, September 15, 1979
Fourth Symphony "The Rose" by Theodore Roethke
Premiere: Joan Morris, mezzo-soprano, Saint Louis Symphony
Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin conducting, March 13, 1987
Fifth Symphony (1989) 24'
Premiere: The Philadelphia Orchestra, Dennis Russell Davies
conducting, January 11, 1990
Sixth Symphony (1996-97) 25'
Premiere: National Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin conducting,
February 26, 1998
Seventh Symphony: A Symphonic Concerto, premiered by The MET
Orchestra conducted by James Levine at Carnegie Hall/New
York on May 19, 2002; also performed by the Munich Philharmonic
under Levine in early June 2003. conducted by Patrick Gardner.
Available on Ethereal Recordings
Eighth Symphony commissioned for the Boston Symphony Orchestra
and Chorus conducted by James Levine and planned for Boston
in February 2008.