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LABELS: New World
WORKS: Counterpoise; Viola Concerto; Brangle
PERFORMER: Dawn Upshaw (soprano), Roberto Díaz (viola); Philadelphia Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallisch, David Zinman
Philadelphia-born Jacob Druckman, who died in 1996, was one of the most successful composers in the USA during the closing decades of the 20th century but never established a decisive profile in the UK. This anthology of three major works – all taken from live performances by the Philadelphia Orchestra between 1990 and 1998 – is a timely reminder of his gifts and inventiveness. His bravura compositional technique and individual synthesis of tonal, serial and impressionistic elements created a more complex sound-world than most of the minimalist composers who have enjoyed greater international celebrity, but Druckman’s glowing, teeming orchestration is always stimulating (and of course very well brought out in these committed accounts). The rugged and voluble Viola Concerto (1978) is a notable addition to its small repertoire; the 1994 song cycle Counterpoise intriguingly balances poems by Emily Dickinson against the surrealism of Apollinaire, the two authors inspiring Druckman to contrasting light-dark sonic invention and creating some great lyric opportunities for Dawn Upshaw, here in radiant voice. But the most striking work is Brangle, a bravura three-movement orchestral invention on dance rhythms from the late Eighties. The title alludes to the dance also known as the bransle or ‘brawl’, and it’s a dark, sometimes barbaric piece in which Druckman sought to evoke ‘the brutishness of all-male society’. (The first movement carries the performance indication ‘macho’.) Thought-provoking music with real kinetic pulse. Calum MacDonald