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Elena RUEHR (b. 1963)
Shimmer for string orchestra (1995) [11:33]
Vocalissimus for chamber orchestra (1991) [7:50]
Cloud Atlas for cello, harp and string orchestra* (2011) [16:56]
O'Keeffe Images for orchestra (Summer Days (2013) [11:45]; Sky above Clouds (1993) [9:31]; Ladder to the Moon (2003) [11:45])
Jennifer Kloetzel (cello)*
Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose
rec. 2003-14, Jordan Hall, Boston; St. Mark’s School, Southborough.
pdf booklet available here.
BMOP/SOUND1039 [69:22]

This is one of two recordings from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) of which I received an mp3 preview.  I regret that the other was well removed from my comfort zone.

I’m not aware that I have encountered the music of Elena Ruehr before, though there are two recordings of her music on Avie, one of which, also recently released, with the generic title Lift, contains chamber music (AV2319).  The earlier CD, of music for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra was well received, though we seem to have missed it here at MusicWeb International (AV2263).

Having tried and disliked the other BMOP sampler, I turned with trepidation to Ruehr’s music and immediately found myself enjoying it.  As one reviewer wrote of Averno, the major work on the earlier Avie CD, there is little here to frighten the horses, but I would add that there is much to challenge the listener and to enjoy.  It’s all sui generis, so it’s hard to describe, but I think that if you like Arvo Pärt or John Tavener – The Protecting Veil, perhaps – you should like this recording.  Significantly, the composer writes in the booklet, with clearly implied regret, of the neglect of melody in 20th-century music theory classes.  Even if you don’t subscribe to Qobuz, you could listen to short samples there and judge for yourself; subscribers can stream or purchase the download.  As my preview was at a low bit-rate (192 kb/s), I used the Qobuz streamed version for this review.

The music ranges in date from Ruehr’s postgrad student days at the Juilliard and the University of Michigan to the present.  Three of the pieces are inspired by the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe, illustrated on the cover and in the booklet, though I wasn’t able to discern any particular programmatic links.  Another influence stems from the composer’s love of dance, evident in the strong rhythm of much of the music.

As these are, to the best of my knowledge, the only available recordings, I have no benchmark against which to judge them but the quality of the performances certainly contributed to my enjoyment and appreciation.  The recording is also very good.

Not an essential purchase, then, but a reassuring reminder that some composers are still writing powerful music which combines a modern idiom with an appealing beauty.  Now I must explore one or both of those Avie recordings.  Classicsonline.com also offers a download version of an Albany recording of Ruehr’s music (TROY1117 – also available for streaming from Naxos Music Library).  Spot-sampling from NML suggests that that, too, combines something important to say with approachability of style.

Brian Wilson