Search - Don Freund, Christopher Theofanidis, Samuel Adler :: New Music From Bowling Green

New Music From Bowling Green
Don Freund, Christopher Theofanidis, Samuel Adler
New Music From Bowling Green
Genres: Special Interest, Classical
  •  Track Listings (14) - Disc #1


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A welcome opportunity for fine discoveries, but at times a s
Discophage | France | 03/07/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)

"I haven't found the underlying unifying concept of this disc, a motley collection of works by six contemporary American (and one Canadian) composers of various origins, generations (the oldest, Karel Husa, was born in Prague in 1921 and moved to the US in 1954 to teach at Cornell University; the youngest is Chris Theofanidis, born in Dallas in 1967 and at the time of the recording still teaching at the University of Houston - since then he as moved to the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the Juilliard School in New York City), educational background and compositional outlook. Most of them are academic composers, in that they all hold or have held professorships in composition in various Universities - but not the Canadian Jeffrey Ryan. They do share, at least in the pieces represented on this disc, a broad common musical language which I would term "mild-modernist", with sometimes a neo-romantic tinge, in the wake of, say, William Schuman rather than Roger Sessions or Milton Babbitt. Their music, though dissonant and at times explosive, has not relinquished all bounds to tonality and to the classical forms; in keeping with a long tradition born in the Romantic era, it strives for dramatic impact and color (but without the research on new sonorities produced by unusual playing modes, so characteristic of composers like Ligeti or Crumb - except maybe, quite discreetly, in Husa's symphony). But probably the only real unity is that they are all performed by the Bowling Green Philharmonia, the student orchestra from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Each year, the Philharmonia, under the auspices of its music director Emily Freeman Brown, participates in the New Music & Art Festival sponsored by the BGSU College of Musical Arts, and the performances on this disc given at the festival and recorded in 1996 and 1997.

Except for Samuel Adler's "Requiescat in Pace", a 12-minute somber and brooding dirge written in memory of JFK immediately after his assassination in 1963, the compositions date from the 80s (Karel Husa's 2nd Symphony "Reflections", composed in 1983) and 90s, the most recent being Theofanidis' violin concerto "On the Edge of the Infinite", written in 1997. Except for the Husa, all the compositions are relatively short pieces, Ryan's being the longest at 13:30 and the shortest being Marilyn Shrude's 3 and ½ minute "Into Light".

In comparison with the competing version of Husa's Symphony on Marco Polo (Husa: Music for Prague 1968, Symphony no 2 "Reflections", Fresque, see my review), the reading of the Bowling Green Philharmonia is tentative. With its close recording pickup on the strings and forward-moving tempo, the first movement is earthbound and lacks a sense of mystery, while at its climax (4:34) the violent timpani strokes sound recessed and muffled. Despite the "very fast" indication, the second movement is very cautious in tempo (the string pizzicatos admittedly seem fiendishly difficult to play together) and lacks tension and dramatic impact. Only in the last, slow movement is the Bowling Green Philharmonia equal to the movement's stark and mysterious grandeur.

I bought this disc for Husa's Symphony, but it gave me an appreciated opportunity to hear fine works by composers hitherto unfamiliar to me. Don Freund was born in Pittsburgh in 1947 and since 1992 has been Professor of Composition at the Indiana University School of Music. His "Radical Light" is a short (5:20) and dazzling orchestral etude after a poem by A.R. Ammons, and its only drawback is that is sounds just a little too much like "Sunday Morning", the second of Britten's Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, or again the battle music in his opera "Billy Budd". Even more original is Theofanidis' compact (11:40) violin concerto. Its opening gesture (a fanfare-like orchestral outburst) is reminiscent of Lutoslawski's 3rd Symphony and his Louisville Fanfare, while its fascinating semi-tone string slides from the orchestra and elaborately florid violin melismas bring to mind the music of Korean composer Isang Yun. These two compositions make me want to explore more of their respective composer (see, however, my somewhat disappointed review of Music of Chris Theofanidis).

One of the disc's nice features is that each piece is presented by its respective composer. True, in a minute or less, they don't have time to say much and they all seem to be trying to place as many words as possible in such short time, but they do present the circumstances of composition, and their speeches are complemented by the synthetic but informative liner notes.

Despite my reservations about their interpretation of Husa, the Bowling Green Philharmonic under the guidance of Emily Freeman seems to play with expertise, assurance and authority. If you didn't know, you wouldn't guess it was a student orchestra. All that said and weighted, given that all the pieces save the Husa Symphony are short and give less of a substantial representation of their respective composer as a monographic disc, and that the competing Marco Polo disc is a better option for the Husa, I am not sure who this disc will be attractive to, except for the Husa completists (are there any, besides me?) and the friends of Bowling Green University.
Ryan's "Ophelie" a vocal masterpiece
Discophage | 04/02/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Not to put to shame the other wonderful pieces featured on this well-recorded disc, but surely the highlight for any listener will be Canadian composer Jeffrey Ryan's "Ophelie" for soprano and orchestra. Those of us who long for a composer with a new voice, but also one which is exciting to listen to as well as (I'm expecting, especially from this performance) to sing, this is what we've been waiting for. An aural horror story, the orchestra whirls around us like the waters that drag poor Ophelia to her death. And Myra Merritt is a thrilling singer to hear--an actor who uses her colourful voice to great effect in this piece. This should be in everyone's collection, and I look forward to more Ryan recordings in the future."