Sunday 29 November 2015

JoAnn Falletta and the London Symphony Orchestra’s new recording of Jack Gallagher’s Symphony No. 2 for Naxos should gain many new admirers of this composer’s music

American composer, Jack Gallagher (b.1947)  studied composition with Elie Siegmeister, Robert Palmer and Burrill Phillips. He participated in seminars with Karel Husa, Thea Musgrave and Ned Rorem and masterclasses with Aaron Copland, George Crumb and William Bolcom. He holds doctoral and master’s degrees in composition from Cornell University and a bachelor’s degree cum laude from Hofstra University.

His works have been performed or recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Chamber Symphony Orchestra, the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra of Krakow, the Kiev Philharmonic Orchestra and the U.S. Air Force Band of Flight.

His compositions include orchestral works, works for symphonic band, chamber works, vocal and choral works, instrumental and piano works.

His debut recording for Naxos  of his Diversions Overture, Berceuse, Sinfonietta and Symphony in One Movement: Threnody with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta (8.559652) was highly praised.

Now from Naxos comes World Premier Recordings of Gallagher’s Symphony No. 2, ‘Ascendant’ and Quiet Reflections, again performed by the London Symphony Orchestra  conducted by JoAnn Falletta


Jack Gallagher’s Symphony No. 2, ‘Ascendant’ was composed between 2010 and 2013. In four movements and lasting just over an hour it seeks, in the composer’s words, ‘…an expansiveness of discourse possible, perhaps, only to an extended work. Thematic connections link material among the movements.’

Whoops from brass open the lively Boldly, a bubbling orchestral theme with a fast forward motion. The music falls to a quieter yet equally forward moving section with many attractive individual instrumental contributions before gaining a subtly sprung rhythmic pulse. A second subject arrives, a gently nuanced melody woven through various sections of the orchestra.  Soon the pace picks up in the strings before swirling through the orchestra with percussion and brass adding colour as the music rises in dynamics. There are rising and falling string swirls and a harp arpeggio before quietening as the theme weaves a tapestry of instrumental detail. Surges of string theme occur before the music rises in dynamics through a terrific orchestral flourish.

I thought here that I detected a string sequence that recalls Benjamin Britten of the Sea Interludes. A quieter section follows, carefully pointed up by percussion before a repeated motif for brass that is taken forward by the orchestra. A rising brass motif appears over an increasingly dramatic orchestral layer leading through varying tempi, moments of exquisitely hushed orchestra with woodwind running through and of fast, quicksilver orchestral passages.  Later there is a slow theme for bass clarinet soon leading to an exquisite passage for various woodwind. A harp, percussion and scurrying strings lead on before rising with brass fanfares to a climax. There are moments of violent syncopated rhythms before the strings and brass lead on with a rising and falling string motif to the dynamic coda. 

A phrase for horns quietly leads to a rhythmic woodwind theme in the second movement, Playfully. This is a lovely light playful theme that has a flow and charm but also a depth. Soon lower strings take the theme forward and develop it, around which a myriad of instrumental details are heard. There are sudden sharp little woodwind and brass outbursts before the music rises through a very fine, longer breathed string melody. Drums add drama as the music increases in dynamics, horns sound over the orchestra as do other brass and swirling woodwind. A bass tuba followed by double basses lead on in a quieter passage that is taken by the strings, through dramatic passages pointed up by drums. A mellow string passage with rhythmic element is heard before a terrific forward propulsion leads to a lovely little passage for woodwind and the more subdued coda.

Horns quietly open Slowly before a gently undulating orchestral theme slowly moves forward with a quite beautiful orchestral texture and lovely shifting harmonies out of which the most lovely passages emerge. There is a beautiful tapestry of orchestral sound before the music subtly gains in flow with a real outpouring of orchestral beauty. There are some spectacularly fine woodwind arabesques with a plaintive oboe melody that weaves its way through the orchestral tapestry. Soon a flute takes the melody, then a clarinet all laid over a lovely string layer. Later the music suddenly becomes dramatic as drums help develop a swirling passage. The music suddenly quietens with strings and a harp phrase as woodwind take the music slowly back to its gentle nature, falling to a slow deep bassoon passage. Strings lead on with a wonderfully discordant theme around which the woodwind slowly swirl, through some most glorious orchestral textures as the music slowly increases in dynamics. Horns and a quieter orchestra bring the gentle coda.

The marking of the finale, Slowly - Energetically - Fast – Moderately - Fast seems to indicate a bringing together of preceding material. Quiet shimmering strings open, over which the brass soon quietly bring a theme that soon leads to a slow, shimmering, rich orchestral passage. The pace picks up in a fast moving passage before a drum heralds a quieter fast moving string theme around which an orchestral tapestry is woven. There are many individual instrumental passages including clarinet, flutes and percussion that appear briefly as the strings continue to maintain their forward flow. Later there is a slower, restrained, quieter section for woodwind over lower strings in music that is full of shifting harmonies. A hushed section for strings and harp arrives over which flute arabesques appear. Brass intone and  drums sound out as the pace quickens, moving through woodwind then brass passages before the strings move ahead. There is a rise in dynamics, through a rhythmically syncopated passage over which brass eventually sound out. Drums pound as the orchestra strides ahead with horns, swirling strings, woodwind and cymbals. The syncopated string theme re-appears over which brass and woodwind are heard before timpani thunder out and the riotous, energetic coda arrives.

This is a symphony of major proportions and content, one of the finest to come out of America for a long time. Gallagher has a strong sense of form as well as a real ear for instrumental colour.

Gallagher’s orchestral work, Quiet Reflections (formerly, A Quiet Musicke) was completed in 1996 and composed for the 80th anniversary season of the Wooster (Ohio) Symphony Orchestra under its Music Director, Jeffrey Lindberg. Following Gallagher’s previous work, Proteus Rising from the Sea, the  composer wished to write a work that ‘… aspires to inhabit an entirely different sound world… endeavours to evoke a sense of longing for past tranquillity, calm and serenity.’

Tubular bells chime as a horn brings a gentle melody. The strings take over, soon leading to a woodwind passage where an exquisite tapestry is woven. Richer string passages appear around which the woodwind flow through passages of fine introspection with an intensely American sound. There are little orchestral surges as a lovely woodwind passage weaves its way over the strings. Later a reflective rich string passage arrives before the music slows and achieves a lighter string texture. Bells toll again as a horn overlays the orchestra and rich strings lead with woodwind and tolling bell to the quite wonderful, hauntingly beautiful coda.  

This is a most lovely work. JoAnn Falletta draws first class performances from the London Symphony Orchestra who receive a very fine, detailed recording that reveals all of Gallagher’s fine orchestration.

There are excellent booklet notes from the composer. 
This excellent new disc should gain many new admirers of Jack Gallagher’s music. 

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