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SOUNDS OF AMERICA

Naxos’s second recording of the music of Margaret Brouwer begins with the post-event traumatic stress disorder of Shattered Glass and the Clarinet Quintet, each tonally confused over a serial grid, always doing whatever it takes to make the instruments sound good. Sometimes, after repeated listenings, her music turns darker than it sounded at first; but generally Brouwer’s absorbing, good-sounding flow of large-scale narrative structure, infused with her attractively elusive sense of melody, tends to separate itself as a splendid physical entity on its own from the deep personal conflicts the composer was wrestling with. Even without the back story, for example, the Clarinet Quintet is clearly a work of masterful intent; the command with which Brouwer creates and develops an evolving relationship between the clarinet alongside and intertwined with the strings ranges so freely in mood and colour that it would be fascinating to follow with the score. After Sandra Simon sings the exquisitely sad Whom do you call an angel now?, to a David Adam poem, Blue Streak Ensemble play their signature back-tonature piece Lonely Lake before ending with the glowing ambience of Bach and Debussy arrangements.

The playing is superlative throughout and the recordings are of audiophile quality. The members of Blue Streak Ensemble were recruited from the Cleveland Institute of Music, where Brouwer teaches composition. Their flexible instrumentation of piano, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, percussion and piano gives the music they play, whether it has been written for them or arranged, a definite sense of things happening. Laurence Vittes

Burton

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Symphony No 2, ‘Ariel’ Diane Curry mez Stephen Dickson bar Syracuse  Symphony Orchestra / Christopher Keene  Bridge F BRIDGE9436 (51’ • ADD) Recorded 1978 From Peters International 6 PLE128

Stephen Douglas Burton set a gargantuan task for himself when he endeavoured to create his Symphony No 2. Inspired by Mahler’s masterpieces in the genre, the American composer conceived a fivemovement work for large orchestra and solo voice (or voices). The score has the subtitle Ariel, after the poem by Sylvia Plath, whose texts provide the dramatic impetus for the entire symphony.

Given Plath’s penchant for dark and turbulent subjects, Burton devised a potboiler of a work with equal degrees of ferocity, grandeur and lyricism. The harmonic language is essentially tonal, with subtle use of dissonance and keys that wander from their roots. Plath’s verses – not printed, alas, in the booklet-notes – can be difficult to discern when the singers are competing with orchestral clamour but the vocal lines vividly convey the poems’ anguished emotions.

The Bridge Records disc is a remaster of the original 1978 LP performance, a Peters International release, by the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra under Christopher Keene. It is a striking account that gives full vent to Burton’s spectrum of orchestral colours and vocal incarnations of Plath’s tortured narratives. Be prepared for venom, especially in the fourth movement, ‘Daddy’, in which a young girl’s anger at her dead father is almost too personal to bear.

Burton assigned the vocal parts to either low male or female voice, or both. The Syracuse performance goes the last route, with mezzo-soprano Diane Curry and baritone Stephen Dickson dividing the material to fervent effect. It is poignant to hear the magnificent artistry of Dickson, who died in 1991 at age 40. Donald Rosenberg

Colina  Requinauts Annie Gil mez Nicholas Mulroy ten Royal Scottish  National Chorus and Orchestra / Ira Levin  Fleur de Son F FDS58029 (58’ • DDD)

The 14 sections of Michael Colina’s Requinauts mix Catholic liturgy with settings of

Rumi, Dylan Thomas and Auden according to a passionate personal undercurrent seeking faith and release. The resulting mix of exotic, eclectic and original styles seems always striving to musically illuminate the composer’s stated intention, ‘to comprehend the frightening notion of death’. Colina claims to have self-constructed the word ‘Requinauts’ along the lines of ‘Argonauts’;

in Colina’s case, meaning seekers of ‘peace, harmony or repose’, even when, as in this case, repose requires two soloists and a big chorus and orchestra. Conducted courageously by Ira Levin, the large cast and crew experience and survive a succession of musical adventures which, despite their spiritual mission, frequently glitter and glow irresistibly in a Yellow Brick Road way.

The voyage otherwise is frequently a disturbingly film noir one, as in ‘The Reed Song’, a radiant tenor aria of Verdian intensity and eloquence accompanied by xylophones and celesta, blending with the chorus joined by basses singing low audiophile notes. The brilliant heraldic fanfares which open the following track, ‘And death shall have no dominion’, affirm the theatrical sense of Colina’s ear. The recording was made at Henry Wood Hall in Glasgow and has an impressively spacious feel, balanced well with the chorus and spread broadly across the back of the sound stage. There is outstanding definition and timbral accuracy in the deep bassoons, cellos and bass, and overall the splendid Royal Scottish National Orchestra is recorded with tremendous clarity and effortless dynamic range. Laurence Vittes

Malsky  ‘Geographies & Geometries – Chamber Works’ Archipelago of Regretsa. -42.489° 108.756° (Elegy)a. Escaping the Deltab. Same River Twicec. Subtending the Right Angled a Worcester Chamber Music Society; bC‑Squared;  cd Radius Ensemble / dJeffrey Means  Ravello F RR7891 (61’ • DDD)

Composer Matthew Malsky makes his second appearance on disc with a 25-year retrospective headlined by -42.489° 108.756°, an astounding elegy for two violas, whose nerdy title and gnarly content could make it Sheldon Cooper’s theme song on The Big Bang Theory. And while the pieces on this disc aren’t really computer-generated, they are conceptually engineered to increasingly small tolerances, and at times they sound very pleasantly that way.

From its arresting tremolo start, -42.489° 108.756° (conveniently subtitled ‘Elegy’), is all that an elegy for two violas can be: edgy and languorous, tormented and tormenting, fashioned in the form of a palindrome but with an unpalindromic surprise at the end. There is a similar sense of freedom though gramophone.co.uk

GRAMOPHONE DECEMBER 2014 III