Rouse: Iscariot; Clarinet Concerto; Symphony No. 1

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COMPOSERS: Rouse
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Iscariot; Clarinet Concerto; Symphony No. 1
PERFORMER: Martin Fröst (clarinet); Royal Stockholm PO/Alan Gilbert
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1386

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The American composer Christopher Rouse has built an international reputation on a string of striking orchestral and concertante works in an intense, angsty, post-modernist idiom, and the pieces on these two discs are an impressive summation of his gifts.
 
Inhabiting a blackness somewhere beyond Shostakovich and Pettersson, the single-movement First Symphony (1986) takes a familiar theme from Bruckner’s Seventh and subjects its aspiration to all manner of ironic and negative underminings and reversals, ending in exhausted elegy.
 
Compared to its inexorable progress, the chamber-orchestra piece Iscariot (1989) is both more static and more texturally and melodically inventive, a private meditation full of teasing allusions, ending in an evocation of the chorale ‘Es ist genug’.
 
Very different, not just because lighter in mood (Rouse even calls it ‘silly’) is the 2003 Clarinet Concerto, mercurially changeable in direction and material, playing irreverent games with the number 12, and with a burlesque embedded pastiche ‘mini-concerto’ whose appearances are determined (shades of John Cage!) by rolls of the dice. The superb Martin Fröst is brilliant in its challenging solo part.
 
For me the Concerto is the highlight of the first CD. Calum MacDonald