Wednesday 6 November 2013

Terrific playing from Evelyn Glennie on a fascinating and worthwhile disc of works by John Corigliano, recently issued by Naxos

Italian American composer John Corigliano was born in 1938 New York City to a musical family. His father was, for many years, concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic.

He studied composition at Columbia University and at the Manhattan School of Music after which he worked as assistant to the producer on the Leonard Bernstein Young People's Concerts, and as a session producer for classical artists such as André Watts.

Corigliano first came to prominence in 1964 when, at the age of 26, his Sonata for Violin and Piano (1963) was the only winner of the chamber-music competition of the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds in Italy. He composed his Vocalise (1999), Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra (1977) and Fantasia on an Ostinato (1986) for the New York Philharmonic and his Poem in October (1970) for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Centre. His Oboe Concerto for the New York State Council on the Arts followed in 1975 and his Promenade Overture for James Galway in 1981. His Symphony No. 2 was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Symphony Hall in 2001.

In 1991 he was awarded the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for his Symphony No. 1 (1991) and the Pulitzer Prize for his Symphony No. 2 (2001).

Most of Corigliano's work has been for symphony orchestra. He employs a wide variety of styles, sometimes even within the same work, but aims to make his work accessible to a relatively large audience. To date he has written three symphonies, as well as works for string orchestra and wind band. Corigliano has also written film scores, various chamber and solo instrument works and the opera, The Ghosts of Versailles as well as concerti for clarinet, flute, violin, oboe, piano and Conjurer – a Concerto for Percussionist and String Orchestra with optional Brass (2007)

It is this last work that features on a new release from Naxos together with Vocalise (1999).


David Alan Miller conducts the Albany Symphony Orchestra with the percussionist Evelyn Glennie and soprano Hila Plitmann .

Conjurer is written in three movements each separated by a cadenza. Cadenza I opens with little percussion taps across a range of instruments developing a real sense of anticipation until eventually arriving on the xylophone with running scales and a variety of little motifs. With Movement I: WOOD the orchestra finally arrives with an incisive theme. The marimba enters dancing over the orchestral theme before the quieter opening tapping sounds return but they soon become more animated as the orchestra increases in intensity. There is some terrific playing from Evelyn Glennie.

Cadenza II: follows without a break, announced by the tam tam. Tubular bells sound in a very striking moment before flourishes from the cymbals and various metallic sounds. Tubular bells sound again, played so sensitively, creating a wonderful atmosphere before we are led into Movement II: METAL where the hushed string orchestra introduces an exquisite melody. Eventually, hushed notes on the vibraphone appear against the beautiful string melody that slowly moves forward. This is a glorious moment. Eventually the music becomes more animated leading to a climax with the tubular bells and cymbals re-appearing before calming to a hushed orchestra with gentle sounds from the vibraphone – a sumptuous sound, beautifully conceived and played to perfection.

Cadenza III features the ‘Talking Drum’, a drum that is played by the hands and can be squeezed to change pitch, and kick drum that enters over a sustained string chord from the preceding movement. The music slowly builds in tempo and rhythm to a climax as it leads into Movement III: SKIN where the orchestra imitates the slow build-up of the preceding drum cadenza. Drums enter as the music builds, moving slowly forward. The music suddenly quietens with bass strings, before a little string melody emerges from the mists with deep tympanum sounds. The orchestra starts to build again against drumming with Glennie again providing such controlled playing, combining so well with the orchestral sounds. As the music slowly builds again Glennie provides massive drum strokes leading to a final cadenza, a massive virtuoso performance as she pushes the music ahead to the coda, with a terrific end from orchestra and drums.

Evelyn Glennie is terrific in this work, often blending subtle percussion sounds into the fine orchestral sounds of the Albany Symphony Orchestra.

Vocalise was first performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kurt Masur in 1999 following their commission of the work.

A mournful voice opens Vocalise, almost with the feel of a native chant. As the music broadens, bell sounds appear and electronic sounds slowly emerge. Soprano, Hila Plitmann, shows tremendous textual range. A plaintive piccolo enters before orchestral and electronic sounds add a glittering accompaniment. As the vocalising continues, strange sounds accompany the voice. Plitmann builds up her vocal sounds dramatically as does the orchestra, becoming quite passionate. A quieter section follows before agitated orchestral phrases lead to an increasingly romantic melody that leads to a dramatic orchestral climax. As the soprano re-joins the orchestra, the music leads to an increasingly dramatic build up where her voice is captured by a microphone ‘loop’ and echoed around the venue in a strikingly unusual effect. The orchestral outbursts are treated the same way before leading to a terrific climax of swirling orchestral sounds that dies away to the voice with brass and woodwind accompaniment. The orchestra leads to a gently swaying melody with strange wiry electronic accompaniment. Plitmann’s voice is echoed again with the tiniest tinkling accompaniment, quite ethereal in sound. The soprano adds strange pulsating sounds as her voice is ‘looped’ around before fading out.

Hila Plitmann’s singing in this unusual and attractive work is wonderful, seemingly effortless and very finely controlled.

David Alan Miller and the Albany Symphony Orchestra are first rate on this fascinating and worthwhile disc. A special mention should be made of the highly effective electronic sounds produced and performed by Mark Baechle.

The recording made in the beautiful acoustic of the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, New York is excellent and there are informative notes by composer.

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