Rouse Orchestral Works

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Rouse Orchestral Works

  • Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra
  • Gorgon
  • Iscariot

It is high time we had a disc devoted to the music of Christopher Rouse (b.1949), one of the more genuinely individual composers working in America today. His Cello Concerto has enjoyed a high profile courtesy of Yo-Yo Ma, but the three pieces recorded here are even more striking, performed with impressive commitment and authority by Marin Alsop and her Colorado Symphony Orchestra. All are claimed as premiere recordings (not true) but two out of three isn’t bad. A word on the composer. Having started as an acolyte of George Crumb, Rouse has since gone his own way, incorporating elements of rock music in a series of energetic orchestral pile-drivers before striking out into the symphonic mainstream with Shostakovich an increasingly powerful presence. There is, as in so much music of our time, a none-too-subtle quality about the invention, the resort to musical allusion and (intimidating to some) the pop-inspired dynamic range. And yet, as Rouse’s music has become increasingly conservative, he has avoided the cute and if anything grown bolder.
The longest work here, the Trombone Concerto of 1992, received enthusiastic praise from IM when it first appeared on CD with Christian Lindberg as soloist, having won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize in music. It packs a formidable punch once again in a virtuosic and concentrated performance from Joseph Alessi, given solid if occasionally slightly ragged accompaniment from the orchestra. The music’s wide dynamic range poses something of a challenge to the engineering team and listener alike. Mahler, Copland, Shostakovich (the Fourth Symphony) and, principally, Leonard Bernstein are raided for archetypes: the work is dedicated to the memory of the latter and borrows a theme from his Kaddish Symphony. Gorgon is an earlier piece, a startling demonstration of the energy (sometimes achieved at the expense of textural sensitivity) that informed Rouse’s previous creative phases, conclusive proof that concert music can explode with the volume and drive of rock. Helpfully, the booklet-notes capture its roller-coaster quality and don’t lead you to expect the complexity and gravitas of The Rite or Birtwistle’s Earth Dances. Alsop secures a real performance and the recording gives impressive weight to the percussion section. Play loud or not at all.
Iscariot is a complete contrast, slow moving and lightly scored (which is not to say quiet), dedicated to and first conducted by John Adams (although that has not been allowed to influence its idiom). There is consoling balm but scepticism too in those post-Ivesian string sonorities, attacked with relish by the Colorado players. Considerable depth of feeling is conveyed – the composer has spoken of the piece as a purging of emotional memories – and the recording as such seems rather more successful here than in the Trombone Concerto, with greater detail achieved. As you will have gathered, this is an invigorating and accessible programme and I do urge you to sample it.'

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