Premiers for Cello and Orchestra
All these works were commissioned for Yo-Yo Ma which makes the performances definitive in at least one sense. Fortunately, David Zinman secures committed playing from the Philadelphia Orchestra and, thanks to a sensitive recording team, they make a more positive contribution than has sometimes been the case in recent outings to the cavernous-sounding Giandomenico Studios. Whether you want the disc will depend on how you respond to the idiom of the three composers represented here. As is so often the case in this period of musical history, the most straightforward music is provided by the youngest of the three men, Richard Danielpour (b.1956). His music and even his movement titles are derivative of Leonard Bernstein’s but you may think that no bad thing. Danielpour is a shameless eclectic who wants his music to have “an immediate, visceral impact” and so it does. What one misses is memorable melodic invention. Leon Kirchner (b.1919), Ma’s sometime teacher at Harvard, is a survivor from an older school, placing greater stress on internal logic and intellectual consistency even if he has moved away from the world of Arnold Schoenberg (his own teacher) to forge a personal style of “euphonious dissonance”. There is here a rich, loving, almost Korngoldian lyricism, at first suppressed, at length permitted to flower.
Christopher Rouse (b.1949) is one of the more genuinely individual composers working in America today and his neglect over here is a puzzle. Having incorporated elements of rock music into his own before such things were fashionable (and introduced the first academically respectable course on the subject at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York), his mode of address is both boldly communicative and formally coherent, rarely lapsing into the obvious paths of professorial post-expressionism and/or workmanlike nostalgia. If his Cello Concerto is less effective than some of his other pieces that may be because it does not quite measure up to its stated programme as “a meditation upon death”. Rouse is good at the noisy accumulation of rhythmic energy, less original in the contemplative, static processional of his second movement. Or so it seemed to me. Concluding with a death rattle – one last reprise of the hissing and rattling percussion idea from the first movement – this Adagiati encompasses references to other people’s death pieces – Monteverdi, Schumann and, seemingly, Part’s Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten, although that section might also be said to constitute an unravelling of the rather banal ascending idea that opens the concerto.
The notes promise “three distinctively American works of eminently durable fiber”. Time will tell, but the project deserves support.'