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Augusta Read THOMAS (b.1964)
Aureole for orchestra (2013) [7:47]
Words of the Sea for orchestra (1995) [16:53]
In My Sky at Twilight for soprano and ensemble (2002) [18:36]
Carillon Sky for solo violin and chamber ensemble (2006) [8:20]
Terpsichore's Dream for chamber orchestra (2007) [15:33]
Silver Chants the Litanies for French horn and 18 players (2004) [12:41]
DePaul University Symphony/Cliff Colnot (Aureole); Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Pierre Boulez (live concert performance) (Words of the Sea); Christine Brandes (soprano); Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Pierre Boulez (In My Sky); Baird Dodge (violin); Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Oliver Knussen (Carillon Sky); Chamber Orchestra/Cliff Colnot (Terpsichore's Dream); Greg Heustis (horn); Southern Methodist University Wind Ensemble/Jack Delaney (Silver Chants)
rec. no dates and locations specified.

Step forward a comparatively young composer writing today in a dissonant and provocative way.
Augusta Read Thomas was born in Glen Cove, New York and has held and holds a variety of directorial, professor and composer-in-residence positions. The latter include the Chicago Symphony (1997-2006) and, currently, with the New Haven Symphony. The latter connection accounts for the intended third release in the Nimbus Read series. This will feature the world premiere and first recording of the Saxophone Concerto Prisms of Light with William Boughton and the New Haven Symphony. Read’s music has also been conducted and played by Rostropovich, Boulez, Barenboim, Eschenbach, Knussen, Salonen and Sir Andrew Davis, so she has not been short of A-List proponents.
Aureole for orchestra is a shade Coplandesque, wrapped in provocative rhythms and colours. There’s a Bernsteinian rumpus about this with lots of percussion activity giving a silvery overlay. Around 6:33 there’s a jagged ‘central casting’ percussion-underlining. It’s all very lucidly orchestrated.
Words of the Sea for orchestra lets us hear a live concert performance of a work with lots of busy apocalyptic activity. Are we hearing a tidal race or a maelstrom? A sense of long-line writing emerges but we are soon sucked back into that percussive tidal race. This is virtuoso stuff. An uneasy peace is evoked, like Melville’s Ishmael adrift in the ocean. This becomes increasingly tense and mysterious putting me in mind of Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym. The music recalls Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto, yet is edgily dissonant.

In My Sky at Twilight is for soprano and ensemble. The soprano, Christine Brandes, sings with great clarity across the dissonance and patter-clunk of the ensemble. Again Read’s predilection for wild upwards strikes is present and they are fierily lofted by Brandes who would on this evidence take well to Nicholas Maw’s Scenes and Arias. The music asserts a malign mystery - a gentle cradling under threatening skies. There is something of Valentin Silvestrov’s Fifth Symphony about this, though it’s not quite as refulgent.

Carillon Sky for solo violin and chamber ensemble revels once again in a luxuriant web of dissonance and caprice. It’s highly virtuoso writing redolent of Szymanowski and Dutilleux.
Terpsichore's Dream is for chamber orchestra, with more pattering percussion and silvery chiming filigree. Gritty dissonance carries the day but it’s always cleanly scored. This time there’s a sizzle and bite about the music and something of the dynamic ruthless activity of Aureole. The searing brass writing is reminiscent of William Schuman. 

The hunting and fanfaring of Silver Chants the Litanies is bitingly recorded. The score is laid out for French horn and eighteen players. It’s a hammeringly active Stravinskian piece which, after passing through shimmering episodes, ends in quiet druidic mystery. It’s impressive but struck me as disconsolate music for malcontents. I suspect I just didn’t get it.
The notes are useful and the recordings though seemingly made at different times during the 2000s are brilliant.
There’s at least two more Read CDs are to come from this source so Read adherents are to be encouraged.
Rob Barnett