CHARLES ROWLAND BERRY (b.1957): Orchestral Music, Vol. 1 - Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5, Olympic Mountains Overture.

Catalogue Number: 10Y006

Label: Toccata Classics

Reference: TOCC0512

Format: CD

Price: $18.98

Description: After studying with Paul Creston and Peter Racine Fricker, Berry embarked on a career as composer, while also promoting other contemporary composers and supporting himself with a variety of "day jobs", mostly in one area or another of the music industry. He makes some interesting observations about the relationships between various types of music and the commercial opportunities and restraints imposed upon it in his booklet notes, written from the point of view of a highly informed insider with unusually wide experience. The slightly odd sales note from the record company talks about "naïveté" and film music, but this is to sell Berry's music short by a substantial margin; his chosen idiom is tonal and, by design, readily approachable, but these works are crafted with assurance, originality, and a broad scope of compositional expertise. The Fourth Symphony is in five movements, lasting a little over half an hour. Berry is a Freemason, and this symphony expounds on traditional Masonic ritual teaching on the five senses, coupled with their natural stimuli - the four classical elements, plus "spirit". This quasi-programmatic outline and primarily descriptive intent, combined with the lack of traditional symphonic forms within movements places the work somewhere between symphony and symphonic suite, perhaps, though the music certainly has the customary sweeping scope of a neo-romantic symphony. The overall layout, too, is symphonic; allegro, slow movement, scherzo, the interpolated "spirit" movement as a kind of tone poem intermezzo with its own narrative arc, and finale. The first movement, "Water" has a fluid energy from the start, and seems to depict the many moods of water, from streams to storms. Martinů and Sibelius may be called to mind here and there, but explicit references to any other composers are scarce. The second movement, "Earth" is tranquil and a little melancholy, with plangent wind solos memorialising those who have returned to the earth and can no longer be touched in the physical world. The "Fire" scherzo "represents the bringer of light, joy, energy and life." "Spirit" is initially delicate, with filigree string quartet textures blended with the orchestra, but turbulence and discord arise and are vanquished, leading to a triumphant conclusion. The finale, "Air" is powerful but capable of great gentleness and lightness of touch. Throughout the symphony there are many felicitous and original touches of orchestration, such as the impending storm in the 1st, the quasi-concertante 4th, and the instrumental dialogues and playful percussion episodes in the 5th movement. The Fifth Symphony, written last year, is in four movements, which trace a Romantic dramatic arc in musical terms, with no explicit descriptive intent. The large first movement presents turmoil and conflict through the opposition of themes more than traditional development. Surging, decisively optimistic strings are opposed by blaring, unsettling brass chorales. After a powerful climax, a central section of rather Sibelian contour and inexorable momentum in contrapuntal textures between sections leads to a triumphant return of the string theme from the opening, crowned with exuberant fanfares. The Andante movement that follows presents solemn motifs from winds, strings and brass, which uneasily vie for attention; a mournful oboe melody winds through the movement like a voice raised in lament, but ultimately it is the strings and brass in unyielding counterpoint that dominate the movement. The following movement, with its irregular rhythms, offbeat accents, pizzicato strings and prominent percussion, is the symphony’s scherzo, lent a certain pastoral grandeur of landscape by soaring chorale-like melodies. The allegro finale begins with a grand pulse and flow of optimism, sporadically disturbed by unexpected dissonances. The momentum of the music’s flow of imitative counterpoint brooks no interruption, though, and carries the movement to its triumphant conclusion, propelled by the soaring horns from Sibelius' 5th. Olympic Mountains Overture evokes the natural grandeur of the Olympic National Park in Washington state. If you like David Maslanka (12R047, 11J109, and many others), you’ll love this. Lviv National Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra; Lublin Philharmonic Orchestra; Kuchar, Theodore; Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra; Suben, Joel Eric.


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