CORIGLIANO Symphony No 1 COPLAND Appalachian Spring
This is the third recording of John Corigliano’s Symphony No 1, the American composer’s enraged and elegiac response to the Aids crisis. It’s a work of neither great subtlety nor structural coherence, but rather makes its case through extreme contrasts, veering vertiginously from fits of explosive fury to wistful sentimentality. Corigliano is an accomplished film composer, and whatever blunt emotional power the work wields is accomplished through skilful, imaginative scoring and an acute sense of the dramatic. The symphony was composed in 1988, the same year as the founding of the National Orchestral Institute, a month-long summer training programme for conservatory students, based at the University of Maryland. That such a polished, expressively pointed performance as this was made in a single day in June 2015 by an ad hoc orchestra of pre-professional players is mightily impressive.
Michael Torke’s euphoric Bright Blue Music – another American score from the 1980s – is also expertly done and provides a clever foil for the Corigliano. Torke plays with the idea that harmonies derive meaning from their usage and creates all his material from the two most common chords: tonic and dominant. Whether he succeeds in maintaining interest for the nine-minute duration is questionable, but it’s a pleasantly diverting experiment.
Copland’s Appalachian Spring might seem out of place here but David Alan Miller’s audaciously unsentimental view of the well-worn ballet suite is so refreshing it hardly matters. Copland’s debt to neo-classicism is unmistakable in Miller’s hands, yet, for all its razor-sharp edges, the music still has the grace to delight – thanks in large part to the NOI Philharmonic’s collective virtuosity.