Corigliano: Symphony No. 2; The Mannheim Rocket

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COMPOSERS: Corigliano
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; The Mannheim Rocket
PERFORMER: Helsinki PO/John Storgårds
John Corigliano’s First Symphony was, in the composer’s words, an attempt at a ‘Mahlerian’ response to ‘world-scale tragedy’ – specifically the devastating losses caused by AIDS. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Second Symphony is for strings alone, and is freely based on Corigliano’s String Quartet of 1996 – a more abstract conception perhaps, but for me it leaves the deeper impression of the two symphonies. Corigliano admits that a more generalised idea of ‘loss’ lies behind the finale, but even if there were no such clues it would be easy enough to guess. The musical language ranges from savage Bartókian Expressionism, through Mahlerian desolation to something more distinctly contemporary (with eerie echoes of passing British police sirens in the finale), but whatever the manner, the emotional narrative is powerful and cogent. The Mannheim Rocket also tells a story – a more tone-poem-like one this time: a lightning tour of German musical history that ends up going into nightmare reverse. It has something of the quality of a Bugs Bunny score (complete with wacky sound effects) – in fact it would make a fabulous backdrop to a cartoon. Two very different kinds of music, then, but John Storgårds and the Helsinki Philharmonic respond to both with tremendous conviction as well as technical panache. Excellent sound throughout. Stephen Johnson