Michael DAUGHERTY (b.1954)
Orchestral Works: Fire and Blood (2003) [28:16], MotorCity Triptych (2000) [28:09], Raise the Roof (2003) [13:06]
Ida Kavafin (violin), Ramón Parcells (trumpet), Kenneth Thompkins, Michael Becker, Randall Hawes (trombones), Brian Jones (timpani), Detroit Symphony/Neeme Järvi
rec. 1-4 May 2003 [Fire and Blood], 4-6 Jan 2001 [MotorCity Triptych], 16- 18 Oct 2003 [Raise the Roof], Max M Fisher Music Center, Orchestra Hall, Detroit, Michigan, USA DDD
NAXOS 8.559372 [69:30]

American composer Michael Daugherty was Composer-in-Residence with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for four years. During that time, he was commissioned to compose works symbolizing the city of Detroit in its various aspects.

Daugherty’s American heritage is unmistakable in the opening bars of Fire and Blood, a violin concerto composed in 2003. The musical language has its basis in a complex tonality, with a strong Bernstein-esque pulse and hints of folk music. The first movement has an innate energy, with a range of orchestral colours including some impressive metallic industrial sounds reminiscent of some twentieth century Russian music. Based on a mural by Diego Rivera which depicts Detroit’s legendary car manufacturing industry, the work is in three movements. The first movement is bold, brash and industrial - and enormously successful. The second movement represents aspects of Rivera’s wife, painter Frida Kahlo. This movement is much darker, with traditional Mexican influences coming to the fore. There are some wonderful moments of strength and hope amongst the sorrow, and this extended movement always maintained my interest. The dramatic final movement returns to the mood of the opening, with syncopated accents and metallic sounds. Describing the Assembly Line of the factory, this movement is brief and energetic, with a sense of the worker surrounded by machinery. This is a refreshingly honest work which has a sense of representing an aspect of modern life, with a skillful use of the orchestra and its instrumental colours. Ida Kavafin gives a dazzling violin performance, with a wonderful sense of occasion and gritty portrayal of the raw emotional aspects of the piece.

MotorCity Triptych, we are told, refers to an artwork, as well as to a fold-out map produced by the American Automobile Association as a travel guide to Detroit. The three movements depict different aspects of the city; entitled Motown Mondays, Pedal-to-the-Metal and Rosa Parks Boulevard - the titles speak for themselves. I find it interesting that this work draws attention to historical events and places them in a modern context, providing a tribute to a city and those who worked to make it what it is for a modern audience. Motown Mondays refers to just nine performances by Motown artists in the summer of 1966; these were nine performances which were enormously influential and Motown records, founded in Detroit, is still a household name. Daugherty’s work fuses aspects of the Motown style with his own language, providing an enjoyably invigorating approach to the orchestra. With an opening reminiscent of the Fanfare for the Common Man, Pedal-to-the-Metal has a bold, almost dark introduction, which breaks away into a fast paced adventure through the city. The final movement, Rosa Parks Boulevard provides a solo for the trombone section, based on African-American spirituals, including fragments of Oh Freedom, which was one of Rosa Parks’ favourites. Parks moved to Detroit in 1957, just two years after the famous event on an Alabama bus which sparked the civil rights movement. Daugherty does an excellent job of blending the spiritual style with his own contemporary language, and his music is dramatic, drawing attention to an important event in modern American history.

The final work on this disc is a one-movement concerto for Timpani and Orchestra, Raise the Roof. Inspired by the architecture of some of the world’s most impressive buildings, the virtuoso timpani part demands melodic lines from the instrument, providing a demonstration of the capabilities beyond providing rhythmic pulse and colourful accents to an orchestral sound. This is a piece with strongly syncopated rhythmic pulsations, and a sense of dramatic flow. Brian Jones gives an excellent timpani performance.

Throughout the disc, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra give a fully committed performance under Neeme Järvi which is worthy of recognition. This is a fascinating collection of works which are unapologetic, honest and above all, musically satisfying. I look forward to hearing more from this composer.

Carla Rees