Rochberg: Symphony No. 5; Black Sounds; Transcendental Variations

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COMPOSERS: Rochberg
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony No. 5; Black Sounds; Transcendental Variations
PERFORMER: Saarbrücken RSO/Christopher Lyndon-Gee
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559115
George Rochberg, 85 this year, is a composer probably less often played than discussed: so this addition to Naxos’s American Classics series is welcome evidence of what his music actually sounds like. The Fifth Symphony, unheard since its premiere by the Chicago Symphony and Solti in 1986, is in a single large movement, alternating between anguished near-atonality and much more consonant slow episodes, largely in the accents of Mahler; as it progresses it settles increasingly into the slower music, a shift which feels suspiciously like a capitulation to easy listening rather than a genuine resolution of conflict.

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Black Sounds for wind, keyboard and percussion of 1965 is a ‘homage to Varèse’ which begins with an almost uncanny imitation of the master at his most earth-shattering, but gradually loses momentum to end quietly. Transcendental Variations is a transcription for string orchestra of the central slow movement of Rochberg’s ‘time-travelling’ Third String Quartet of 1971-2: the arrangement adds a Mahlerian glow to the original’s reproduction of the language and mood of late Beethoven and Brahms.

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Christopher Lyndon-Gee proves an ardent advocate of Rochberg in his notes as well as his conducting, and wins a ready response from the excellent Saarbrücken orchestra. Anthony Burton