New World Records 80648-2
Playing time: 61'16
Stephen Hartke’s Symphony No. 3 was recorded September 18–23, 2003. Jacob Druckman’s Summer Lightning was recorded September 24–30, 2003. Augusta Read Thomas’s Gathering Paradise was recorded September 29–October 5, 2004.
All three works were recorded in concert at Avery Fisher Hall, NYC.
Thomas / Druckman / Hartke
Augusta Read Thomas - Gathering Paradise: Emily Dickinson Settings / Jacob Druckman - Summer Lightning /
Stephen Hartke - Symphony No. 3
Heidi Grant Murphy, soprano; The Hilliard Ensemble; The New York Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel
| 1. ||Augusta Read Thomas (b. 1964): Gathering Paradise: Emily Dickinson Settings (for Soprano and Orchestra) (2004) |
Heidi Grant Murphy, soprano
| 2. ||Jacob Druckman (1928–1996): Summer Lightning (1991) ||[8:13] |
| 3. ||Stephen Hartke (b. 1952): Symphony No. 3 (for Countertenor, Two Tenors, and Baritone Soli with Orchestra) (2003) |
The Hilliard Ensemble: David James, countertenor; Rogers Covey-Crump, tenor; Steven Harrold, tenor; Gordon Jones, baritone
These are the world-premiere recordings of orchestral works by three of the most acclaimed contemporary American composers.
Stephen Hartke’s Symphony No. 3 was composed in 2003, on commission from the New York Philharmonic and
generously supported by Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis. It was premiered September 18, 2003, at Avery Fisher Hall by the New York Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel conducting. The work begins with the voices alone, repeatedly singing the word ''Wondrous'' to music of eerily shimmering and astringently beautiful sustained harmonies run through with fidgety riffs and skittish outbursts.
The first stirrings of the orchestra come with quiet, nudging, close-packed chords in the horns and then the violas. As the voices build in intensity, the full strings of the orchestra emerge in passages of spacious block harmonies. It's beside the point to try to classify Mr. Hartke's harmonic language, which is loosely grounded in tonality but spiked with atonal complexities. What matters is that every sound in a Hartke piece has been precisely realized by a composer with an extraordinary ear.
Yet as the music grows agitated, the orchestra becomes an increasing presence. With its rich instrumentation, including a battery of percussion with Chinese opera cymbals, piano, vibraphone and marimba, the orchestral music is stunning. But you could sense Mr. Maazel and his players being careful to rein in the sound. Though discreetly amplified, the voices were still too often covered by the orchestra.
If the voices were just an ethereal component of the overall orchestral sound, achieving balance would not be so complicated. But the main body of Mr. Hartke's work, devoted to an intricate setting of the text, is carried by the singers. In several extended passages, as Mr. Hartke evokes the tumultuous energy of the city in its prime and its mysterious destruction, the orchestra cuts loose on its own. You could sense the relief of the players as they tore into this exuberant and hell-bent music.
Mr. Maazel brought off a solid account of this challenging new work after just two full rehearsals with the orchestra.
This disc contains two hits and a miss, drawn from excellently recorded live performances with the New York Philharmonic under Lorin Maazel. The first piece well worth getting to know is Jacob Druckman's Summer Lightning. A late work (1991) lasting less than 10 minutes, it has all of the composer's technical brilliance in its exploitation of the potential of the modern symphony orchestra, but it also shows an additional degree of harmonic consonance that will appeal to even comparatively conservative listeners. The title says it all: the music is warm and darkly sonorous, with frequent flashes of brilliant color and sudden bursts of rhythmic energy. Although placed in the middle of the disc on this program, it would make an excellent concert opener and calling card for touring orchestras looking for an attractive modern novelty.
The one miss is Augusta Read Thomas' setting of Emily Dickinson texts, Gathering Paradise. Of course the poetry is wonderful, but Thomas' music at no point rises to a similar level of inspiration. Granted, she follows the sense of the text in a rudimentary sort of way, but the absence of melody, the tortured vocal lines, and the largely atonal harmonic palette all belong to what Penderecki has aptly characterized as the "sclerotic avant-garde". We've heard it all before, many times, never with pleasure. Just compare this sorry effort to other Dickinson settings, ranging from Copland's famous Eight Poems to the above-mentioned Druckman (in Counterpoise). Only impressive academic credentials combined with skillful exploitation of the politically correct performing arts subsidy machine explains Thomas' current prominence, for otherwise her music offers a modern-day equivalent of The Emperor's (or Empress') New Clothes. There's nothing here. And as long as audiences politely applaud and orchestras don't care how awful the stuff sounds, no one will ever call her to account. That said, soprano Heidi Grant Murphy does her impressive best with what sounds like a miserable chore.
The disc closes, though, with Stephen Hartke's extremely moving Symphony No. 3, for orchestra and male vocal quartet (in this case the always impressive Hilliard Ensemble). One of a seemingly endless series of tributes to the events of 9/11, most of which have been opportunistically horrible when not downright offensive, Hartke's symphony shows exactly how such a thing ought to be done. He has selected for this single-movement work a lovely and evocative fragmentary (ca. 9th century) English poem called "The Ruin". The choice of text, combined with the use of the vocal quartet, gives the music a sense of distance, of universality that makes the piece far more than a mere occasional work inspired by recent tragedy.
The ultimate message of the music is hopeful. Hartke's scoring is subdued but atmospherically precise, and it both enhances the words and creates an effective large-scale structure. The last six minutes or so, leaving the listener with a vibrant musical image of fountains gushing hot water, are obstinately memorable and positively cathartic after the preceding, somber evocation of the broken walls of a dead city. It's quite instructive to compare Hartke's thoughtfulness and sensitivity with the generic ugliness of Thomas' piece. Still, the whole point of a disc like this is to offer a range of music by composers of different stylistic inclinations, and it's very good to see New World releasing major works by major artists. Like her or not, Thomas is a significant voice in American music today--time will tell if she remains one tomorrow. Certainly, in my opinion at least, Druckman and Hartke deserve that chance. [7/14/2006] --David Hurwitz (classicstoday.com)