CHRISTOPHER ROUSE Odna Zhizn · Symfoni nr. 3 & 4 · Prospero's Rooms
26 July 2016
Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic have already set down a cycle of the Nielsen symphonies together with recent orchestral works by Magnus Lindberg for the Dacapo label. This latest disc focuses on Lindberg’s successor as the orchestra’s Marie-Josée Kravis Composerin-Residence, Christopher Rouse (b1949), whom Gilbert has long championed, having already recorded the first two of his symphonies with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic (BIS, 1/10).
The Third Symphony (2011) follows on directly from its predecessors in terms of musical idiom. Rouse has cited Prokofiev’s Second Symphony as the governing influence, and this two-movement work proceeds from an initial Allegro, whose tensile sonata design evokes its model even aside from several allusions, to a theme with five variations that streamlines the discursive trajectory of the Prokofiev into a simple though effective alternation of stasis and dynamism. This culminates in a heightened recall of the theme, then a coda of fateful decisiveness.
Even more absorbing is the Fourth Symphony (2013), not least through its striking out on an appreciably different path. Equivocation is the watchword: whether in the translucent texture and warmly enervated manner of the initial ‘Felice’ or the ensuing ‘Doloroso’ that gradually loses momentum as it draws into itself on the way to a sepulchral close. Intriguing, not least because the composer has pointedly refrained from discussing any more concrete ‘meaning’, and it will be fascinating to hear just where Rouse’s symphonic odyssey is headed (the first performance of his Fifth Symphony is scheduled by the Dallas Symphony for next season).
Odna Zhizn (2008) - russian for ‘A Life’ - is a homage to a close friend and, for all the pungent aggression at its centre, it is the ethereal music either side that lingers in the memory. Prospero’s Rooms (2012) is the ‘overture’ to an unwritten opera on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, but what resulted is so rich in incident as to be its own justification. No less persuasive is the advocacy of Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic, heard to advantage in sound of clarity and depth. Rouse devotees and newcomers alike have no reason to hesitate.