Michael DAUGHERTY (b.1954)
Fire and Blood for Violin and Orchestra (2003) [28:16]
MotorCity Triptych for Orchestra (2000) [28:09]
Raise the Roof for Timpani and Orchestra (2003) [13:06]
Ida Kavafin (violin), Ramón Parcells (trumpet), Kenneth Thompkins, Michael Becker, Randall Hawes (trombones), Brian Jones (timpani), Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. May 2003 (Fire and Blood), Jan 2001 (MotorCity Triptych), Oct 2003 (Raise the Roof), Max M Fisher Music Center, Orchestra Hall, Detroit, Michigan, USA
NAXOS 8.559372 [69:30]
It's one thing when you listen to a movie soundtrack and just enjoy it, as music. But it can be quite a different experience when you know the movie and its story. The music on this disc can also be appreciated on two levels. Just listen to it - and you'll probably like it, for it is colorful, brave, modern, beautiful, interesting. Then read the excellent, comprehensive notes by the composer, Michael Daugherty, and the listening experience will be much richer. There is helluva lot he wanted to put into the music. And what is remarkable, he really succeeded in doing it!
The music is not only recorded by its world premiere performers - these actually are the world premiere performances. So, it's pretty authoritative. This also adds the excitement of music newborn close to the real joy of creation. The playing is so good that the applause at the end of each piece comes as a shock: what, this was live? And the recording quality is very commendable, spacious, catching every detail of the exotic orchestration.
Detroit is the motto of the disc, and the first work on it, Fire and Blood for Violin and Orchestra, is inspired by the Detroit Industry murals by Diego Rivera. The first part could be a depiction of Rivera's fiery temperament. It could also reflect the fascination big, all-consuming fires - volcanos, industrial furnaces or revolutions - held for the artist. But conflagration also has a negative, destructive side, and this aspect is also present in the music. The middle part is dedicated to Rivera's wife, Frida Kahlo. From out of a "red river of blood" rises a hauntingly beautiful melody - more Yiddish than Mexican to my ears. There is suffering, compassion, love and grief. It is one of the most touching pieces I have ever heard, at times completely breathtaking. Finally, in the short third part we arrive at the murals themselves. The violin is now the worker on a conveyor belt, while the orchestra is the machinery it operates. Among the industrial clinks and clangs, the violinist brings the work to its triumphant close.
The entire composition leaves the aftertaste of a well-made movie. The violin part is ambitious, and the soloist, Ida Kavafian, does wonders with her brilliant, powerful playing, full of life. The orchestra matches her dazzling virtuosity with its own. Here Daugherty outshines himself in inventing sonic gestures and thrilling effects. Indeed, I daresay that this is one of the most dramatic, rich and just beautiful - in that old-fashioned sense - pieces of music written in this century.
There is less unity in the earlier MotorCity Triptych. It consists of three large-scale pictures, which can also be regarded as independent pieces. Motown Mondays evokes the sounds of the famous Detroit nightclub in the Sixties. Pedal-to-the-Metal is a drive through Detroit's Michigan Avenue, with its past and present colorfully mixed. Rosa Parks Boulevard is an imaginative essay on civil rights. The use of three trombones to depict voices of Afro-American preachers is unforgettable. The entire triptych creates a feeling of a large mosaic. Probably, it is too fragmentary. Still, this is a very effective orchestral triptych, with rich, inventive orchestration, superbly performed and recorded.
Imagine Rhapsody in Blue, where the piano part is taken by ... timpani! That's what happens in Raise the Roof, the last work on the disc. Yes, timpani, of all instruments, take the solo role. And they play melodies, and they have a virtuosic cadenza. The work is conceived as variations on two themes, which creates interesting constructs in the middle section. The first theme appears to be inherently Latin. This, together with bright orchestration, creates a festive, Gershwin-meets-Revueltas atmosphere. It’s tons of fun in the end.
The Detroit Symphony under Järvi plays with soul and style, and vividly brings to life all the eccentric twists of Daugherty's imagination. Michael Daugherty is certainly a composer to know. He is still and ever on the rise, and I can't even guess where his muse will take him in the future. But I can be sure that it will be interesting and beautiful: the properties that every composer strives to achieve, but not everyone can!