BARBER Essay No 1 CORIGLIANO One Sweet Morning DVOŘÁK Symphony No 7
John Corigliano’s imposing song-cycle One Sweet Morning was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to commemorate the 10th anniversary of September 11. Writing it must have proved a challenging and in some respects unenviable task, given the need to balance the inevitable emotional imperative with a sense of distance necessary if durable art is going to be the outcome, which I think, in this case, it is. Corigliano confirmed his constructive approach in an interview, saying that after the horrific events themselves, ‘we have a chance to look back at 9/11 and then look back further, to see how it fits into the drama of all the world’s wars, all the world’s battles, all the world’s horrible mistreatments of people’. The trans-national texts used are by Czesław Miłosz, Homer, Li Po and EY Harburg, and the orchestral style ranges from sublime simplicity to the harrowing sounds of battle (in the Patroclus excerpt from Homer’s Iliad) where post-Bergian resonances underline vivid parallels (and I mean this in the best sense) between Corigliano and the finest American film composers, for example Leonard Rosenman. Mezzo Stephanie Blythe’s performance of the premiere is strong and sonorous, while Alan Gilbert conducts a compelling account of Corigliano’s multifaceted score.
I was equally impressed by his persuasive way with Barber’s essentially lyrical First Essay (Barber being an obvious influence on Corigliano), the opening bars offering proof that Gilbert has honed his orchestra back into something of its old, inimitable self (meaning the Philharmonic of Mitropoulos and Walter) – big-boned and fleshy with plenty of scope for expressive solos. Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony has drama to spare, its stormy language like a 19th-century footnote to Corigliano’s impassioned tribute, the performance sincere, forthright and mostly very well played, if not quite up there with the best. All in all, this is an impressive document and I’ll henceforth be on the lookout for other performances that bear Gilbert’s name.