Tower Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman

Fans of American music will love Tower's dynamism and directness, which help to disguise a lack of thematic invention

Author: 
David Gutman

Tower Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman

  • Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, No 1
  • Concerto for Orchestra
  • Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, No.5
  • Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, No.2
  • Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, No.4
  • Duets for Orchestra
  • Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, No.3

Here is another fine disc from the conductor, orchestra and production team responsible for RCA's terrific collection of music by Christopher Rouse (RCA, 8/97). If this one is marginally less impressive, the fault does not lie with the performers or sound engineers. Joan Tower, barely played in the UK, is one of those composers who rejected the cul-de-sac of academic serialism in the mid-'70s. Having spent much of her childhood in Bolivia (where her father worked as a mining engineer), she began turning out ebullient, gestural music full of colour and dynamism. The first woman recipient of the Grawemeyer Prize, Tower was lauded for Silver Ladders, although she is probably best known for an earlier orchestral work, Sequoia. The composer has spoken of her change of direction as 'a real gutsy move for me. It meant that I had to stand up for myself and say, ''Hey, I like drums - I like rhythmic energy - I like simple colours!'' This was a time when you didn't do anything simple. It was a real door-opener for me, because after that my own voice started to take shape.'
What she may be less good at is memorable thematic invention. There are deliberate echoes of Bartok, Stravinsky and even Bernard Herrmann in the Concerto for Orchestra, as well as a welcome emphasis on rhythm and movement, but the work lacks the kind of distinctive material that would lift it onto another plane. The Fanfares, a sort of feminist counterblast to Copland, are unarguably effective, although the order in which they are played here does not correspond to the descriptions in the booklet (Nos 2 and 5 being reversed). Admirers of the shorter pieces of, say, John Adams will have no problems with the idiom. No doubt it remains to be seen whether such determinedly anti-neurotic, neo-tonal music will stand the test of time. Yet lovers of American music should not hesitate. Tower has all the dynamism and directness, the urban hustle and bustle of the great names. Moreover, any CD conducted by Marin Alsop is an event. She has inherited Leonard Bernstein's ability to lift the rhythms of her national music and make its (overly?) insistent rhetoric ring true.'

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