Christopher ROUSE (b. 1949)
Symphony No.2 (1994) [26:13]
Flute Concerto (1993) [27:56]
Rapture (2000) [11:22]
Sharon Bezaly (flute)
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Alan Gilbert
rec. Stockholm Concert Hall, September 2003 (Symphony No.2), March 2006 (Flute Concerto) and September 2007 (Rapture)
BIS-CD-1586 [66:37]

Rouse’s Flute Concerto was partly inspired by his own Celtic ancestry and by a more recent, cruel event that happened in Liverpool in 1993 when a two-year old boy named James Bulger was brutally tortured and then murdered by two ten-year old boys. The outer movements – both entitled “Amhrán” (“song” in Gaelic) and the two faster movements clearly allude to the Celtic world at large, be it Irish or Scottish. The central Elegia is “rather an emotional reaction to the Bulger murder”. The concerto is dedicated to the memory of James Bulger. Rouse’s Flute Concerto is an alluring work and the deeply felt elegy undoubtedly imbues the whole work with deep feelings. Sharon Bezaly is fully in touch with the emotional and technical architecture of this work.

The Second Symphony, too, is an elegy of sorts: the death of fellow composer Stephen Albert in a car accident was the catalyst for the profoundly felt elegy that is the symphony’s second movement. Unlike the First Symphony (BIS-CD-1386), the Second Symphony is in the more traditional fast-slow-fast pattern, in which symphonic coherence is achieved by having material from the first movement restated but with a completely different expressive character in the third movement. While the first movement is comparatively carefree and effervescent (as the composer has it), the third is rather more aggressive and troubled. Like that of the Flute Concerto, the long central movement is a moving and at times impassioned piece building-up to a Whitmanesque climax (“… and the strong dead-march enwraps me …”). It forms the emotional core of the entire work.

By contrast Rapture is a fairly straightforward work conceived as a crescendo “from warm serenity to an almost blinding ecstasy” achieved by progressively fuller orchestration and louder dynamics. This might suggest parallels with Bolero but while the Ravel relies on thematic repetition with different scoring the Rouse is more clearly goal-orientated. That said both works end in a blinding ecstasy.

Christopher Rouse’s music is often described as being visceral in impact, but – as some of the music here makes clear – it can be warmly lyrical and tender, as in the Flute Concerto.

Christoph Eschenbach, to whom the Second Symphony is dedicated, recorded it several years ago as well as the Flute Concerto. There the Concerto was played by Carol Wincenc for whom it was written (Telarc CD-80452). There is not much to choose between those performances and the present ones, the only difference being that Eschenbach adds some more weight to the central Elegia of the Flute Concerto. For information’s sake, let me also add that Leif Segerstam recorded Rapture a few years ago (Ondine ODE 1016-2).

Alan Gilbert obviously loves the music and conducts committed and convincing readings of these superbly crafted scores. This nicely produced release is a most welcome addition to Rouse’s discography. Incidentally, this disc is titled “Gilbert conducts Rouse II”. Does this mean that further instalments might be expected in some near future? I certainly hope so.

Hubert Culot