Son et Lumière
Gabriel Ian Gould
Symphony No.2 On Marching Tunes
Robert Sheena (English horn)
David Finckel (cello)
Albany Symphony Orchestra
David Alan Miller
Recorded between 1998 and 2001 in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, New York
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: May 2004
CD No: ALBANY RECORDS TROY 605 (CD/SACD Hybrid)
Duration: 78 minutes
This release makes for a very attractive concert, one beginning with the iridescent pulsation of Steven Stucky’s Son et Lumière, a 10-minute ‘overture’ from 1988 that effectively sets melodic solos against a fleeting, kaleidoscopic background on its ever-changing course. The ending is rather cursory, maybe, but there is much that is effective.
Gabriel Ian Gould is not referred to as being related to Morton. His English horn (cor anglais) piece is a gentle, reflective, melodic water-study, a malleable work exploiting the melancholy of the cor anglais and also its more animated, sprite-like qualities, all deftly handled by Robert Sheena (from the Boston Symphony). Watercolors has a wide appeal, and avoids wanting to be liked.
Leaping out though is John Harbison’s Cello Concerto, written in 1993 for Yo-Yo Ma. It’s a wonderful piece that begins with evocative percussion and proceeds in three linked movements to be constantly diverting in its variegation and harmony while exploiting a range of moods; in particular some of the dancing, lyrical and translucent-coloured passages are especially enticing. David Finckel (of the Emerson Quartet) gives an immaculate performance, one difficult to imagine being bettered, of what is a really fine piece, one ruminating and emotional, a generous piece that builds to an optimistic, propulsive conclusion.
Morton Gould’s Symphony No.2 is more difficult to judge; it’s an ambitious four-movement piece playing here for about 34 minutes. The driving razzmatazz of the first and third movements, those with the most obvious use of ‘marching tunes’, carries an edge that reminds that this music was written in 1944, and such troubled times (aren’t all times troubled?) establish themselves more fully in the pastoral and folksy second movement (with echoes of Copland’s Appalachian Spring) that seems to seek solace from wartime (pace Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No.5), and in the long, slow finale that is a sort of funeral march, a lament, one chilly and ambiguous. Whether the symphony adds up is one matter, but there’s no doubting the ‘reach’ of the music.
The performances here are truly excellent, committed and identified; and the recording is quite superb in every particular. An attractive concert, then – one of different generations of American composers: Morton Gould (1913-96), John Harbison (born 1938), Steven Stucky (1949), and Gabriel Ian Gould (1974). It’s a good mix and makes for a recommendable issue, which whether heard on CD or SACD (two-channel) reproduces some spectacular sounds, the SACD option seeming to be a little more dimensional.