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Joan TOWER (b. 1938) Made in America (2005) [13:12]
Tambor (1998) [14:03]
Concerto for Orchestra (1991) [28:42] (Part One [15:42], Part Two [13:01])
Nashville Symphony/Leonard Slatkin
rec. Laura Turner Concert Hall, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville, Tennessee, 29-30 June 2006. DDD
NAXOS 8.559328 [55:58]


Joan Tower’s 1991 Concerto for Orchestra is by some measure the most impressive work on this disc as well as the major one.  It truly gives the orchestra a work-out, as far as both solo instruments and the whole ensemble are concerned. There are particularly impressive solos for flute, horn, cello and tuba.  The beginning of the work is rather Bartókian, while later in the movement Stravinsky-like passages abound.  I also detect influences of Frank Martin in the string harmonies.  Yet the work sounds wholly American and individual enough to absorb the sounds of other composers and say something new.  For comparison’s sake, I listened again to Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto for Orchestra, which has gotten a great deal of attention, and can say with certainty that I much prefer Tower’s work.  It somehow seems more genuine and from the heart.  It does not impress one as being as “clever” in its use of the orchestra as Higdon’s, but is nonetheless brilliantly orchestrated.  It just doesn’t call attention to itself in the same way, but seems to me to have more depth and staying power.  When it makes a forceful statement, you take notice.  However, it is the many quiet passages that really stay with you.  Although written in two sections of similar length, the work is performed continuously and makes sense as a whole.   I haven’t heard Marin Alsop’s recording with the Colorado Symphony on Koch International, but it would take some beating to surpass Slatkin and his Nashville forces here.   The orchestra as a whole performs superbly, even if I could imagine a bit more refinement in some of the solos.  The sound is terrific, as is typical of Naxos.  The disc is part of Naxos’s valuable ‘American Classics’ collection, where the record label has done a great service in bringing new and unfamiliar works to the public at a very affordable cost.

The other works on this CD are also worth hearing, if not quite at the level of the Concerto.  The disc opens with the most recent work, Made in America, the result of a project sponsored by the American Symphony Orchestra League and Meet the Composer. The funding is from the Ford Motor Company Fund and the National Endowment for the Arts.  Sixty-five smaller budget American orchestras have taken part in this project and the work itself has been performed in all fifty states.  It is a nicely written piece of Americana, based on America the Beautiful that never quotes more than fragments of the tune.  Again, the quiet sections of the piece are probably the most memorable, but the composition holds together well and does not outstay its welcome.  It would make a good concert-opener, I should think.  It receives a vital performance here in its world premiere recording.

The disc’s second premiere is the percussion work, Tambor, which I found the least interesting.  Influenced by Tower’s upbringing in South America with its history of percussion-based music, Tambor (the Spanish word for drum) is a showcase for the percussion section of the orchestra.  Nonetheless, it is this section’s interaction with the rest of the orchestra that makes the piece succeed.  The performance here, as with the other works, is all one could ask for.

Thus, I would highly recommend this CD especially for the Concerto for Orchestra, a piece that deserves to be performed and heard more frequently, and also for Made in America, which has received considerable exposure across the USA.

Leslie Wright

see also Review by Julie Williams


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