Symphony No.1: Ballet for Orchestra
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Recorded between June 2010 and May 2012 in Orchestra Hall, Max M. Fisher Music Center, Detroit
CD No: NAXOS 8.559765 Duration: 67 minutes Reviewed: December 2013
Orchestral Music by Cindy McTee – Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin [Naxos American Classics]
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
It’s good to once again hear Cindy McTee’s Circuits (1990) – Leonard Slatkin included it in a Philharmonia Orchestra (London) concert some years ago and it made and left an impression. Heralded by some industrial percussion, the orchestra is put through its paces in this five-minute outing – a miniature stuffed with notes! – in music full of unstoppable energy and hip-swinging rhythms. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra and its maestro are totally on top of this thrilling ride, which only stops when it hits the buffers with a bang, and the sound quality is exemplary.
The rest of the pieces are new to your reviewer, each one as dedicatedly performed and as vividly recorded as the brilliant opener. In her Symphony No.1: Ballet for Orchestra (2002), McTee (born in 1953) opens with an arresting idea, the Symphony’s first movement – ‘On with the Dance’ – full of rhythmic guile, some jazzy bass pizzicatos, a contrabassoon solo, and a magnetic build-up of emotion. There are four movements to this 30-minute Symphony, the slow one – ‘Till a Silence Fell’ – following without a break, intense, eloquent and touching nerves, and finding the DSO strings rich-sounding and compassionate. Those familiar with Ravel’s La valse will have no problem spotting its ghostly appearances in the next movement, ‘Light Fantastic’, a sinisterly witty number that seems gone before it starts, and after a short pause the finale, ‘Where Time Plays the Fiddle’, explodes into action and includes a ‘big band’ turn as part of its eventually-frenetic journey. McTee candidly reveals that the Symphony includes references to other music, not just Ravel, but by Beethoven, Barber, Penderecki, and Stravinsky; indeed, the emphatic three-chord motif that ends the work (and begins it, for that matter) might be heard as a big shout-out for “Rite of Spring”.
Einstein’s Dream (2004) is scored for “string orchestra, percussion, and computer music on CD” and opens with jingles that might indeed reflect Einstein’s contemplation of “space and time” and introduces a Bach chorale that is given with all the opulence of a Stokowski arrangement. Over 14 minutes the listener is beguiled (if not always understanding why) by paranormal flickers and customary tones, not least a romantic solo for violin. In the two movements of Double Play (2010), the first turns a certain piece by Charles Ives on its titular head to give an ‘Unquestioned Answer’, McTee initially lulling the listener into a false sense of security before unleashing stentorian Ruggles-like brass chords (don’t miss his Sun-Treader if it comes your way), the music at its close interrupted by percussive clip-clops, the sound of time marching on as ‘Tempus Fugit’ is introduced, fast-paced, fractious and borrowing something a little fishy from the conductor (McTee's booklet note explains my play on words) before driving to the finishing post with tutta forza, the DSO playing like demons.
All in all, this enjoyable collection is a notable inclusion in Naxos’s “American Classics” series.