JOHN HARBISON (b.1938): Symphony No. 4, STEVEN STUCKY (1949-2016): Second Concerto for Orchestra, CARL RUGGLES (1876-1971): Sun-Treader.
Catalogue Number: 06T009
Description: A natural symphonist of real quality, Harbison was an obvious choice when the Seattle Symphony wanted to commission a major work for their centenary in 2004, and the result was this fine work in five movements. Interestingly, although the end result sounds like a through-composed symphonic argument, the work was not composed in sequence. The introductory first movement is brashly exuberant, with a catchy phrase insistently repeated as a bold, very tonal opening fanfare. A contrasting intermezzo, strained and tense, and more harmonically extended, follows, and then a witty scherzo full of jazzy syncopation with a mournful central section, rather reminiscent of the composer's opera on 'The Great Gatsby' of 1998. The emotion heart of the work, the tragic 'Threnody', which was the first movement composed, written in response to a premonition of the imminence and inevitability of loss, follows. The finale, which coincidentally was inspired by a line of Emily Dickinson which also influenced Gloria Coates (06?0??) "lAfter great pain, a formal feeling comes–.” responds to the threnody with powerfully affirmative striving toward a triumphant conclusion. Stucky's colorful and appealing second essay in the Concerto for Orchestra genre, which earned him a Pulitzer, was written for the L.A. Philharmonic's first season at Disney Hall, and is full of encoded musical tributes to the orchestra, key personnel and the occasion, constructed out of a complex alphabet of note names. Fortunately none of this is audible (though it does give rise to some memorable themes); the work is an energetic showpiece of considerable power and constant invention, fully exploiting the resources of a large orchestra and achieving originality of expression without ever resorting to superficial effects. An 'overture' is followed by a set of variations, tonal throughout but with many unexpected nuances and inflections, and a vigorous finale. Ruggles' monumental Sun Treader, craggy and obdurate, dissonantly insisting on pretending to be atonal, is almost standard repertoire now, but it is good to be reminded of its originality, and it makes an interesting foil to the more recent works here. National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic; David Alan Miller.