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Christopher ROUSE (b. 1949)
Symphony No. 2 (1994) [26:52]
Flute Concerto (1993) [31:15]
Phaethon (1986) [8:00]
Carol Wincenc (flute)
Houston Symphony/Christoph Eschenbach
rec. Jones Symphony Hall, Houston, Texas, 24 September, 1 October 1996. DDD
TELARC CD-80452 [65:29]
Experience Classicsonline


Rouse studied with Crumb and Husa. His first love was rock music and he taught the history of the movement at the Eastman School. He reveres the great symphonists from Shostakovich to Schuman from Pettersson to Hartmann as well as the most prominent names among the classical and late-romantic eras.

The music of the Second Symphony’s first movement is both springy and hunted. The harmonic language is game but essentially tonal. An angry but transient tutti battering moves us from the end of the first movement to the whistling introspection of the Adagio second. The Adagio was written in memoriam Stephen Albert who died in a car crash in 1992. The composer Stephen Albert – whose works were included on several Delos discs - was a close friend of Rouse. This movement reflects the lamenting tradition of Berg and Pettersson. There is a sanguine upbeat about the first movement but this is absent in the finale which blasts along with a grim countenance. This is a cauldron which in its most obstreperous moments will remind the listener of Nystroem's Tempest prelude. The symphony ends with a steely visceral brutality developed out of the wrenching earth upheavals of Stravinsky's Le Sacre.

The 1993 Flute Concerto was commissioned by the flautist here and the Detroit Symphony. It is dedicated to the composer's wife Ann and is inspired by Rouse’s British-Celtic ancestry. That's apparent from the innocent and tremblingly vulnerable sentiment of the first movement. The alla marcia second is a cold capering sprite. The Elegia recalls the heartfelt yet chilly Adagio of the Second Symphony yet lends the mood a shivering slow dignity. The Scherzo is redolent of Malcolm Arnold's woodwind concertos in its brilliant interplay of the emotions. The emotive yet understated language of the finale, Anhran, not for the first time, reminds us of Samuel Barber at his most affecting.

Phaethon is the son of the Sun God, Helios – a figure who drew orchestral pieces from both Nielsen and Mathias. The legend of Phaeton has our hero taking the reins of his father's chariot. Phaeton finds himself unable to control the steeds and Zeus has to cast him to his death in order to avoid a disaster for Earth. We have the evidence of the Second Symphony that Rouse knows well the conjure-tricks for the hunted and the threatening. These qualities can be heard in the pumping spleen of this little tone poem. It arrives punching above its weight and complete with screeching woodwind and miraculously rampant brass (4.13). The heaving and shuddering Stravinskian convulsions of its last three minutes recall not only the Rite but also the rushing updraft of Robert Simpson's Fifth Symphony.

The Rouse First and Second symphonies began life in 1986 with the First being premiered by David Zinman with the Baltimore Symphony. Speaking of the First Symphony you can hear it played by the forces who premiered it on First Edition’s Rouse volume (FECD-0026) in their ‘Meet the Composer’ series. The disc also includes Phantasmata.

Rouse is worth attending to. His trade in rhythmic adrenaline is as remarkable as his lyric-melancholic-reflective facility.

Rob Barnett



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