Archive for Michael Daugherty

Best of 2009

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2010 by Craig Zeichner

Lots to chose from and most of it from living composers who create outside the tedious and ugly world of the conservatory. Proving that the future of music is really in the hands of those who care about originality and beauty rather than residing in the clammy claws of the sterile academics.

CD of the Year

Phil Kline: John the Revelator
Lionheart; Ethel
(Cantaloupe Music)
I can’t say enough about John the Revelator. Phil Kline has created a work whose stark beauty connects on so many levels. You’d have to be made of stone not to feel this one.

John Adams: Dr. Atomic Symphony
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
David Robertson, conductor
(Nonesuch)
A strange and beautiful world of orchestral color and rampaging rhythms.


Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 1

Budapest Festival Orchestra
Ivan Fischer, conductor
(Channel Classics)
Big-boned, heroic Brahms that rivals my favorite recordings by Otto Klemperer and Istvan Kertesz. Speaking of Kertesz, I wish the corporate troglodytes at Universal would get a clue and reissue his Decca recordings.

Michael Daugherty: Fire and Blood
Ida Kavafian, violin; The Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Neeme Jarvi, conductor
(Naxos)
Daugherty’s Fire and Blood concerto has balls and Kavafian delivers a brilliantly muscular performance. Daugherty’s music is disliked by the pasty-faced academics–“it’s glib and filled with cheap effects”–they shriek. All the more reason to love his music. Check out the recording of his Metropolis Symphony too.

Gabriel Jackson: Not No Faceless Angel
Polyphony
Stephen Layton, director
(Hyperion)
Jackson grabbed some deserved acclaim with “The Christ Child Sat On Mary’s Lap,” the carol commissioned for the 2009 Festival of Lessons and Carols at Kings College, Cambridge. This sublime CD is an ideal introduction to his music.

Rued Langgaard: Messis
Flemming Dreisig, organ
(Dacapo)
An organ work that clocks in at over 2 hours? Yes please! Langgaard’s music is hyper-Romantic and Dreisig is a superb organist. It’s been quite a Langgaard year with Dacapo releasing a boxed set of the quirky Dane’s complete symphonies.

James Macmillan: St. John Passion
Christopher Maltman, baritone
London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis, conductor
(LSO Live)
A deeply moving and piercingly dramatic telling of the Passion story. A gorgeous performance led by the greatest living conductor.

Mahler Symphony No. 4
Miah Persson, soprano
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Ivan Fischer, conductor
(Channel Classics)
Fischer’s excellent Mahler cycle hits a high point.

Felix Mendelssohn: Complete Organ Sonatas
William Whitehead, organ
(Chandos)
Church organists love these little gems but they are not especially well-know outside the organ loft. Whitehead plays a marvelous old instrument on this terrific recording.

Olivier Messiaen: Saint Francois d’Assise
Rodney Gilfry, baritione; Camilla Tilling, soprano; Hubert Delamboye, tenor
Netherlands Opera Chorus, Hague Philharmonic Orchestra
Ingo Metzmacher, conductor
(Opus Arte)
Pierre Audi’s hypnotic staging is remarkable and Messiaen’s score will probably never be better-served. I think they will be serving frozen margaritas in hell before this opera is ever staged in New York, so grab this DVD and prepare to be overwhelmed.

A video treat

I’m deeply in love with soprano Miah Persson, the soloist on Fischer’s Mahler 4th. Here she is singing “Come scoglio” from Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte.

Happy 2010! I hope…

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Look! Up in the sky…

Posted in Classical music, Reviews with tags , , , , on October 28, 2009 by Craig Zeichner
metropolis

Michael Daugherty's Metropolis Symphony defends truth, justice and listenable contemporary music

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Daugherty
Metropolis Symphony
The Nashville Symphony Orchestra
Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor
(Naxos of America)

I continue to be blown away by Iowa-born composer Michael Daugherty. His music tells a uniquely American story and that appeals to me very much. Most recently it was a recording of his Fire and Blood, a muscular violin concerto inspired by Diego Rivera that grabbed my attention. This time it’s the antic and frantic Metropolis Symphony, an orchestral extravaganza inspired by the 1938 debut of Superman in comic books. I love the very notion of a giant orchestral work inspired by American pop culture and can almost see the sneers of Euro-snobs and the pasty-faced, self-appointed  American guardians of modern music.

 

Metropolis Symphony is in five movements, each one inspired by a Superman character or theme. Lex, the opening movement, is a deliriously diabolic romp for solo violin and percussion-laced orchestra that captures the manic evil of arch-baddie Lex Luthor. Here’s the smack-mouth drive that made Fire and Blood so thrilling. The solo part is played with guts by the Nashville Symphony’s Mary Kathryn Van Osdale. More subdued but equally evocative is Krypton, an eerie tone poem that opens with sirens, gongs and disturbing string glissandi. There’s more terrifying solo fiddling, snippets of what sounds like “Silent Night” and an apocalyptic finale that gives the Rite of Spring a run for its money. MXYZPTLK, the nasty imp from the fifth dimension, is a mercurial scherzo-like third movement that showcases the orchestra’s flute section. The fourth movement entitled Oh Lois! evokes the comic’s heroine alongside Clark Kent. Here’s another wildfire rave-up with a tempo marked “faster than a speeding bullet” that plays out as a delicious example of orchestral slapstick. The closing Red Cape Tango is a moving elegy that evolves into a tango-inspired dance of death with Daugherty quoting the Dies irae.

 

Daugherty’s Deus ex Machina for piano and orchestra, which rounds out the recording, is the composer’s take on the world of trains with each movement focusing on a train or railway. The first movement Fast Forward conjures up images of the avant-garde and displays the rhythmic firestorm that is found in many of Daugherty’s works. The second movement Train of Tears refers to the funeral train that carried Abraham Lincoln’s body through seven states. Here’s Daugherty in an elegiac mood that will remind some of Copland but there is nothing derivative here, Daugherty’s superb orchestration and emotional depth rise to the top throughout. The finale, Night Stream,  is Daugherty’s tribute to the coal-burning locomotives of the Norfolk and Western lines and here’s more of the hard-driving, blues-inflected virtuosity that make his music so thrilling.

 

The knuckle-busting piano part is played with breath-taking skill by Terence Wilson and the Nashville Symphony, conducted by its new music director Giancarlo Guerrero, proves once again that it is one of America’s finest orchestras. Superbly engineered and nicely packaged this is another gem from one of our finest composers.

A few new recordings

Posted in Classical music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

Some interesting August and September releases

Contemporary music with muscle

Contemporary music with muscle

Michael Daugherty
Fire & Blood
(Naxos)

Recently, I was reading an article in the Finnish Music Quarterly about composer Kalevi Aho. In the article Aho mentions a criticism that was made of his music by an Austrian journalist who accused Aho’s music of being “not dehumanized enough.” My complaint about much contemporary music is the opposite, it’s too dehumanized. I shun the over-intellectualization of music, loathe works that sound like they were composed with an abacus and notated in battery acid. Thankfully the three works on this fantastic recording of music by Michael Daugherty are filled with passion, wit and drama to spare.

 Fire and Blood is a full-blooded, knock your socks off violin concerto that makes pressing technical demands of the soloist but never descends to the level of an empty-headed violin showpiece. The work draws its inspiration from the Detroit Industry murals by the great Mexican artist Diego Rivera and the color and energy that Rivera brought to his art is reflected in the music. Violinist Ida Kavafian plays this music with muscle aplenty and the Detroit Symphony under conductor Neeme Järvi is nothing short of spectacular.

 The other works on the recording, Motor City Triptych and Raise the Roof, are also superb. Motor City Triptych is a brilliantly jaunty evocative piece which pays tribute to the Motown sound, Michigan Avenue in Detroit and Rosa Parks. This seems like something of an odd mix but Daugherty’s vivid orchestration and rhythmic skill make each movement a memorable tone poem. Brass lovers take note, there’s plenty of interesting work for trumpet and trombone throughout. Raise the Roof is a concerto for timpani and orchestra and was inspired by such grand architectural wonders as Notre Dame Cathedral and the Empire State Building. The work offers the timpanist an opportunity to play some melody and even stretch out with a showpiece cadenza. Once again Daugherty pushes hard and the effect is thrilling. This is an essential recording for anybody who cares about the current state of American music – it’s very encouraging indeed.

Revolutionary or revolting?

Revolutionary or revolting?

Sergei Prokofiev
Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution
(Chandos)

It’s been nearly thirty years since I first encountered this very weird work by Prokofiev. I remember buying a recording on the Melodiya label that featured a worker-hero and his girl in full party (Communist, that is) regalia on the cover (he was also toting what looked like a 9mm Parabellum pistol). I was struck by the energy and color of the work but I also remember that I didn’t like it nearly as much as the other Prokofiev works I was enjoying with youthful enthusiasm: The Gambler (an opera I saw when the Bolshoi company came to New York in the 70s), Alexander Nevsky, Scythian Suite and the Piano concertos. Thirty years later and my opinion has not  changed, this is not top-notch Prokofiev, but there is enough to hold your interest and this 1992 recording (Chandos is re-releasing lots of their Prokofiev recordings) is quite good.

 
This Soviet patriotic cantata was written in 1936 and is based on texts by Marx, Lenin and Stalin. The work wasn’t premiered until 1966 and by then the texts by the disgraced Stalin were removed. As you would have suspected, none of these gentlemen were Soviet versions of Lorenzo Da Ponte so such lyrical phrases as “No class now stands on both sides of the barricades” must have presented problems to Prokofiev. All kidding aside, Prokofiev rose to the wretched occasion and wrote a wacky and frequently exciting piece that features chorus, orchestra, military band, accordion band and a speaker shouting speeches by Lenin through a megaphone. In a delicious bit of cameo  casting, the great Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky gets to shout the Lenin bits.

 
If you can get over the fact that the people who demanded the work were monsters and the philosophy that inspired it was miserable, there is plenty to like. As a matter of fact, if you are a fan of film music you will be in heaven. The kaleidoscopic Revolution movement features chorus colliding with orchestra and bellowing Lenin speeches, it’s like the Battle on the Ice from Nevsky on amphetamines. The Oath, another big choral number, brings in the accordion band and the purely orchestral Symphony movement offers the energetic, at times frenzied Prokofiev in full flight. Neeme Järvi leads a superb performance and the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus are brilliant. It’s all weird fun and very much worth a listen.

A German Romantic you need to know

A German Romantic you need to know

 
Joseph Rheinberger
(Ars Musici)
The first sentence of the liner notes sums up the story of Joseph Rheinberger pretty well, “[Rheinberger] shares the fate of many German composers of the second half of the 19th century, that of the “forgotten masters.” True that. I’ve always been a fan of Rheinberger’s music. My first exposure to his music was a recording the organist E. Power Biggs made of the composer’s organ concertos. Over the years I’ve become more familiar with his many solo pieces for organ and a work that my church choir regularly sings, the Cantus Missae, Op. 109.

 This recording by the Regensburger Domspatzen (a choir of men and boys) is especially welcome for its mix of sacred and secular repertoire. The centerpiece of the recording is the a cappella Missa Sanctissimae Trinitatis, Op. 117.  The Mass impresses with its simplicity and gentle lyricism. The opening Kyrie is a hushed plea that is moving and marvelously understated. The Gloria is a straightforward song of praise that eschews bombast. The Credo displays Rheinberger’s fine contrapuntal gifts and showcases the pure vocal tonal quality of the excellent chorus. The hymn-like Benedictus sets up the gorgeous Agnus Dei that closes the work.

 The same soaring melodies and skilled choral writing that make the Mass so special are found in the motets and hymns that open the recording. Rheinberger knew his old music too, and the these pieces have their share of contrapuntal flights of fancy, as well as some interesting chromatic turns that would have been heard in the Baroque. Special note most be made of the Salve Regina, Adoramus te and Ave vivens which have a marvelous melodic sweep that is unforgettable.

 The recording closes with the Waldblumen, Op. 124, a set of nature pieces look back to the earlier Romantic period and are filled with folk-like melodies and occasional flashes of drama.