Thursday, May 30, 2013

Michael Daugherty: Mount Rushmore - monumental music

Michael Daugherty: Mount Rushmore
Pacific Symphony 
Pacific Chorale 
Carl St. Clair, conductor 

This new Naxos release features three of Michael Daugherty's most recent compositions for orchestra -- as well the orchestra that commissioned them. And it's a winning combination. All three works crackle with energy and excitement. The   Carl St. Clair and the Pacific Symphony know these compositions well. These are committed and self-assured performances.

Mount Rushmore is an ambitious undertaking, presenting musical portraits of the four presidents carved into the mountain. Daugherty's modern, populist style makes the composition mass appeal/ Any of these movements would be perfect for a patriotic orchestral program (I'm looking at you, "A Capitol Fourth").

George Washington uses Revolutionary War songs to create a rough hewn folk-art portrait of the General. The second movement, Thomas Jefferson, by contrast is a more sophisticated, restrained movement, befitting the cerebral nature of subject. Theodore Roosevelt, like the man himself, brims with energy, embracing the outdoors with a big sound and some Ives-like musical quotes. The longest movement is Abraham Lincoln, a lyrical setting of the Gettysburg Address that serves the text well.

Radio City: Symphonic Fantasy on Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra is a three-movement suite that captures the vintage lushness of a Toscanini recording. Without resorting to pastiche, Daugherty conjures up sound and emotion of the golden age of symphony radio broadcasts.

The Gospel According to Sister Aimee for Organ, Brass and Percussion uses source material of the period -- traditional American hymns and gospel songs -- to  paint a portrait of one of the first radio evangelists. Daugherty transforms his material effectively. As the work progresses, the simplicity of the music loses its way, and becomes wildly distorted.

Three distinctively American works, by an American composer with a distinctive voice, performed by an American ensemble. Not to purchase this would be, well, almost unpatriotic.

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