Letters for the Future
Jennifer Higdon: Concerto 4-3; Kevin Puts: Contact
Time for Three; Philadelphia Orchestra/Xian Zhang
DG 486 3066 52:15 mins
There is an anxious undertone to ‘Contact’, the third movement in Kevin Puts’s concerto of the same name. Nervy woodwind solos stretch into the darkness, met by a tentative response from the strings that melts into a pretty, vibrating passage for the soloists Time for Three. The ensemble comprises two violins (Charles Yang and Nick Kendall) and double bass (Ranaan Meyer), an unusual trio for whom this work (and the following concerto) was composed.
Puts evokes different types of communication throughout the piece, hinting at loneliness, otherworldly connections, fear and joy, honouring the pandemic period in which it was created. The opening and closing movements draw on Time for Three’s vocal abilities with wordless sung passages. The ensemble remains to the forefront in the thickly textured and darkly skittish ‘Codes’; whirling folk dances and repeated motifs in the final ‘Convivium’ reveal sturdy ensemble playing, both within the chamber group and more broadly with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Like Puts, Jennifer Higdon draws upon traditional American styles in her 2007 Concerto 4-3. ‘The Shallows’ begins with sketchy, raspy effects, setting the expectation for an abstract, atonal adventure. In fact, snatches of melody give way to a riot of orchestral colour, ending in an extended cadenza composed by the trio. Its bluegrass flavour feels somewhat detached from the movements proper, with the subsequent ‘Little River’ and ‘Roaring Smokies’ (each movement references the rivers that run through the Great Smoky Mountains) true to Higdon’s distinctive harmonic language.