Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Mythic music with bells and whistles

From October 30, 2009:

All I knew of the Metropolis Symphony by Michael Daugherty was that it was written in 1988 as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Superman's first appearance in comics. So I began with Daugherty's liner notes: "The symphony is a rigorously structured non-programmatic work, expressing the energies, ambiguities, paradoxes, and wit of American popular culture." To test this I put down the notes, plugged in to my iPod, and went for a 42-1/2 minute walk in the rain. My findings from the first listen? Energies? Check! Ambiguities, paradoxes? Check! Wit? Check!

Maybe, though, Daugherty saved some of the wit for the sentence I quoted above, for as mythic as this music is, it's still programmatic. The second movement, for example, is a representation of the trickster MXYZPTLK (the second in music history if you count Bruckner's 7th Symphony, which I don't). The imp's multi-dimensional nature is mirrored in the aural spaces Daugherty creates. That's a much more sophisticated programme than Carl Stalling's Looney Tunes scores (or Beethoven's Scene at the Brook), but it's a programme nevertheless.

A non-musical aside: Daugherty assumes that the Superman myth is particularly American, though all Canadians know that Superman was first drawn by Torontonian Joe Shuster. Clark Kent's first job was with the Metropolis Daily Star, whose name was taken from the Toronto Daily Star where Shuster worked, and the Metropolis skyline was modelled after that of Toronto. Perhaps Superman is American, but Clark Kent is Canadian. Obvious, eh?

The other work on the disc, Deus ex Machina, is shorter but more profound, and more in line with Fire & Blood, which I reviewed last month. Both works make reference to the visual arts: Fire & Blood to Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo, and Deus ex Machina to the Italian Futurists. Daugherty's three train pictures in the form of a piano concerto are in the honourable tradition of Honegger and Villa-Lobos, and will probably bear more repetition than the Symphony. The Naxos disc shows off the splendid Nashville Symphony, who shone in their 2005 recording of the Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras (also for Naxos), music as rhythmically complex, if not always as boisterous, as this. The orchestral and solo playing (by pianist Terrence Wilson) is excellent. Conductor Giancarlo Guerrero seems to have everything in hand, and Naxos has engineered and packaged another winner here.

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