Wednesday, July 13, 2011

ASO Moves from Strength to Strength

Theofanidis: Symphony No. 1 and Lieberson: Neruda Songs
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Robert Spano, conductor
Kelley O'Connor, mezzo-soprano

If they continue on the trend established by their first two releases, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's ASO Media label may become one of my favorite labels. For their second release, the orchestra pairs two compositions by a rising and an established composer. Christopher Theofanidis is the (relative) newcomer, and the work is his first symphony. Peter Lieberson is the established composer, with his "Neruda Songs."

The Symphony was premiered by the Robert Spano and the ASO in 2009, and it's clear that they know this music intimately. Theofanidis's symphony is a study in contrasts. It starts out with a unison wind line that contains all the motifs for the rest of first movement. When the rest of the orchestra enters, its with a lush sound well-suited to the orchestra.

Some parts reminds me of Carl Vine's orchestral music, which is not a bad thing. Like Vine, Theofanidis writes melodically, in clearly defined structures that are easy to follow. This four-movement work is symphonic in every sense; dramatic, expansive, full of rich timbres and imaginative orchestration. For those who still think that modern music is only cacophony gone wild, Theofanidis' First Symphony provides ample proof to the contrary.

The second work on the release, is Peter Lieberson's "Neruda Songs." It's a good match for the Theofanidis Symphony. It also is richly orchestrated, with some distinctively Latino musical turns, in keeping with the Chilean poetry of Pablo Neruda. Lieberson originally wrote this orchestral song cycle for his wife, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. This recording features mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor, who brings her own interpretation to the work (that's her picture on the album art, BTW).

O'Connor's warm delivery and sensitive phrasing give this work new life. The "Neruda Songs" are personal love letters Lieberson composed for his wife. This performance turns them into something more universal, yet still deeply moving.

Two substantial 21st Century works performed with authority and conviction -- the Atlanta Symphony's self-released CDs just keep moving from strength to strength.

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