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Cindy McTEE (b. 1953)
Circuits (1990) [5:24]
Symphony No. 1: Ballet for Orchestra (2002) [30:17]
Einstein’s Dream (2004) [14:18]
Double Play (2010) [16:44]
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin
rec. live, Orchestra Hall, Max M. Fisher Music Center, Detroit, USA, 1-4 June 2010, 9-11 February 2012; 17-19 May 2012. DDD
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559765 [66:43]

American composer Cindy McTee was born in Tacoma, Wichita and her piano tuition was with a teacher who actively encouraged improvisation. It has been said that her music reflects a "charging, churning celebration of the musical and cultural energy of modern-day America." Circuits instantly testifies to this with its headlong nervy rushing helter-skelter. In this super-propulsive writing she shares lineage with Schuman, Bernstein and some of the minimalists. There is more sharing to come with avant-garde influences absorbed into her schemes - Pendereckian string writing, chattering voices and clashing percussion. At the other extreme she has a gift for lush romantic music. The addiction to speed and anxiety can also be heard in the 2002 symphony which is in four movements:-
 
I. Introduction: On with the Dance [8:20]
II. Adagio: Till a Silence Fell [11:48]
III. Waltz: Light Fantastic [3:23]
IV. Finale: Where Time Plays the Fiddle [6:46]
 
Kinetic desperation imbues the ostinatos and note-cells she uses. This can be heard in the first movement of McTee’s symphony. There is also something of Walton’s restlessness and attack as in the two symphonies, the Violin Concerto and Battle in the Air from Walton’s disdained score for Battle of Britain. Stinging and zinging percussion completes the picture redolent of William Schuman. This is contrasted with a Bergian gift for massed string writing in the Adagio. The brief Waltz provides a meeting place for elements of Honegger’sPacific 231 and Ravel’s Valse. This is, after all, a ‘Ballet for Orchestra’. The last movement reeks of the relentless chase - ‘Time’s wingèd chariot’ raked with flames and driven with a steely whip. There are other voices too - including big band, cloud-hung landscapes of the type favoured by William Schuman and thunderous stompings that will inevitably recall The Rite of Spring.
 
Einstein’s Dream takes on the thankless yet imagination-challenging task of giving a musical voice to Einsteinian ideas, including Space and Time, Quanta and Sub-Atomic Particles. It’s in a single movement: quite diverse and wide-ranging stylistically speaking. Bachian cantilena coexists with singing Waltonian writing for solo violin, chattering and breathy bamboo pipes, tensely discreet upward skirling strings (10:28) and electronic murmuring and rumblings. It ends in idyllic stillness. There are moments when you might guess we are listening to a score by Hovhaness or Penderecki. In fact McTee spent three years with the latter as her teacher.
 
Double Play is in two segments. Unquestioned Answer [7:47] plays with the idea of Ives’ Unanswered Question. Again there are incidents of lush string writing that parallels Einstein’s Dream and that makes the listener think of Rozsa and Walton. Add to this slow-chiming ‘sunrise’ figurations, humming and chattering triumphalism all gradually subsiding until we meet part II: Tempus Fugit [8:57]. This makes zany listening with clock mechanisms or raindrop effects alla Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15. This is counterpointed with steady pulsed writing for string orchestra, very reminiscent of Messiaen. Flaming percussion impacts and punchy Schuman-like writing accelerates into a wild pursuit - think Psycho and windscreen wipers fighting with a rainstorm. Raucous brass, stinging percussion and railroad rhythms take us back to Messiaen and a final crash.
 
The liner note is by the composer herself and more details can be found at her website.
 
McTee is never less than interesting - Time will tell whether there is more. The signs are good.
 
Rob Barnett 

Series review: Naxos American Classics


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