Symphony No.2 (Ascendant)
London Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 2 & 3 September 2013 at Blackheath Halls, London SE3
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: April 2015
CD No: NAXOS 8.559768
Duration: 75 minutes
Jack Gallagher is a New Yorker, born in Brooklyn in 1947. This is my first encounter with his music and I want to hear more. Certainly this release graces Naxos’s American Classics series with distinction.
As my personal introduction to Gallagher’s music, I went first to Quiet Reflections (1996), its opening bars featuring bell-strokes and a lyrical if troubled horn solo, strings and other instruments entering soon after. That initial doleful mood is replaced by something more accepting, if still wistful, a gentle acceptance (maybe) that things past will remain there save for our memory of them. It’s a poignant piece, somewhat in the mould of Samuel Barber (think Knoxville), if individually flavoured, with passages of gentle animation and brighter scoring, yet ending sadly.
Symphony No.2 (Ascendant) is an ambitious piece, 63 minutes here. Accessible and colourful, one never feels that Gallagher is patronising the listener, for the ideas are inventive and thoroughly well developed. For all that it took the composer four years to write (it was completed in 2013) Symphony No.2 seems remarkably spontaneous, free-flowing from the pen of a quick-thinking and assured creator. There is an attractive fluidity to this music.
The first movement is marked “Boldly”. It is certainly that, but numerous contrasts are well-made and the varied and brilliant scoring is deftly impressive, keeping the ear entranced. As airborne as it is dramatic, this 20-minute opener sustains its length by always going places (if for a few measures returning to 1911 for a cheeky if feeling-right reference to Stravinsky’s Petrushka) and reaching them.
The remaining movements include a second that is headed “Playfully”, nimble yet elegant, a pastoral dance that heads through different sections with stealth and returns through most of them. The slow movement and the finale are, like the first, on an expansive scale. The former is expressive, leisurely breezy, like leaves gently blown on an autumn day, a sense of nostalgia in the air, numerous solos set against a wafting background, the music growing in agitation and power. The last movement begins pensively but soon expands to energy and striving, the music whirling along if not unrelentingly yet determinedly reaching its aspiration in pulsating and thrilling terms.
With the LSO in top form and with a notable rapport with JoAnn Falletta built up through several previous Naxos sessions, recorded sound that is vivid, and with the composer in attendance, this can be counted as definitive performances of both works. There is a prior Gallagher release (Naxos 8.559652), which I am now keen to hear.