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CD Review

World Premiere Recording

  • Christopher Theofanidis: Symphony #1
  • Peter Lieberson: Neruda Songs
Kelley O'Connor, mezzo-soprano
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra/Robert Spano
ASO Media CD-1002 66:45
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I am not, as regular readers may be aware, the most persuasive advocate for new music. Often I am busy writing on Brahms, Beethoven, or Mozart. So when I say that this is a very important disc, I mean that in the best sense of the word. Robert Spano's work in Atlanta has yielded some extraordinary achievements on behalf of American music, and this is one such project. ASO Media has since been issuing more standard projects, so this 2011 disc is a tribute to the artistic accomplishments of the Orchestra.

First, we have the first-ever recording of the Theofanidis Symphony, which is a remarkably accessible and intelligent work. The first movement opens with a sort of "raining" (in the composers' own words) and at once demonstrates the storied ensemble that Spano has cultivated. The brass is both assertive and warm, while the percussion shies away not once from their difficult assignment. The Symphony is has a lot going on at the start, but it never sounds overly busy, and unlike many a modern work, there are real tunes and themes. These are magnificently played. Dedicated to the conductor himself, Spano conducts with tremendous excitement and a real feeling for the wonderful colors the work presents. Twice the orchestra is called on to sing, which adds yet another element to the work. The two outer movements are massive in scale and well-contrasted emotionally, while the inner movements demonstrate a willingness to balance the piece effectively. The Atlanta players are uniformly excellent throughout.

Peter Lieberson and his wife Lorraine Hunt Lieberson both died of cancer within a few years of each other, but just a few months before her death, she was able to participate in the world-premiere of the Neruda Songs. The work was a co-commission between the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Boston Symphony Orchestra. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson was able to sing under both Esa-Pekka Salonen and James Levine before she passed, The work is a set of five Pablo Neruda poems set to music, and were written for Lorraine Hunt. The Boston recording is available on Nonesuch 79954-2, and I would be foolish not to recommend that disc, but this is also extremely fine. Scored sparsely, the songs are exceptionally beautiful and it's clear that they were written with a great deal of love. Mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor proves a wonderfully engaging soloist. Fans of modern American music, as well as anyone who loves modern art song will need this disc.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman