Rouse, C Symphony No 2; Flute Concerto; Rapture
This is the second all-Rouse disc from this source and there is much to be said in its favour. While Alan Gilbert’s Royal Stockholm Philharmonic may not have the tonal weight of the New York Philharmonic, his current perch, the ensemble is patently well prepared and benefits from the translucent sound that is the hallmark of the BIS label. The choice of repertoire is something of a surprise given that the bulk of it duplicates, without necessarily trumping, one of Christoph Eschenbach’s finest CDs.
Honours are equally divided in the Second Symphony (1994), a Houston commission, where Gilbert knows not to refine away too much of the composer’s “agonised” expressive overkill. In the more rapid passages of the Flute Concerto (1993), Sharon Bezaly’s extrovert virtuosity will dazzle but Carol Wincenc’s woodier, covered sounds are even more affecting in its lyrical moments. Prompted by news of the James Bulger case, the central “Elegia” (track 3 on the new BIS album) sets up a hymnic archetype and (melodramatically?) snuffs it out. Here Eschenbach underlines the music’s significance at a much slower tempo than Gilbert, who seemingly shies away from the frank emotionalism of its response to one of those “isolated, individual tragedies which serve to sensitise us to the potential harm that man can do to his fellow”. Or perhaps that isn’t the explanation at all. Beer drinkers will associate Rouse’s hymn tune with its deployment in a Carling ad – such are the paradoxes of contemporary capitalism. Less controversially, track 5 seems like a natural for Classic FM, Celtic crossover of a superior kind.
Eschenbach concludes his programme with the energetic, rock-influenced Phaeton; Gilbert chooses Rapture (2000), one of Rouse’s most emollient, tonally unruffled pieces, closer to Rautavaara or Michael Torke than either George Crumb or Led Zeppelin. Performance-wise Gilbert is tauter than Leif Segerstam on Ondine and the music is the better for it. Recommended.