Symphony No. 5; Supplica; Concerto for Orchestra
Nashville Symphony/Giancarlo Guerrero
Naxos 8559852 71:32 mins
Christopher Rouse (1949-2019) composed in several genres, but his affinity with the orchestra was such that many Stateside regard him as the greatest American symphonist of our times. On the basis of his thrilling Symphony No. 5 (2015), performed with relish by the Nashville Symphony under conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, it’s hard to disagree.
One of Rouse’s first musical loves was Beethoven, and he turns to the German’s own, iconic fifth symphony in a homage that radiates joy in invention. From the up-ended famous motif of the opening it surges in one tautly continuous movement through ‘turbulence to serenity’, as Rouse put it: now complex and rhythmically driven, now lyrically melodic.
Not just Beethoven, but Nielsen and Copland are discernible among other forebears whose presence underpins Rouse’s ability to straddle tonality and dissonance with heartfelt expressiveness yet showman flair. It’s a distinctive mix – and renders his neglect in the UK a mystery.
While the watchword of the symphony is energy, entreaty and gathering exuberance characterise the works alongside it. Supplica (2013) is full of dark, yearning timbres and, reminiscent of Ives in its mournful trumpet solo, is elegiac and beautifully unresolved.
The Concerto for Orchestra (2008) explores not dissimilar terrain, but edges towards a riotously colourful ending as each player becomes a soloist. With typical directness Rouse once said of it, ‘the threat level on this piece is Orange. It’s rooted in the 12-tone system and the dissonance level is quite high.’ It’s also brilliantly orchestrated and zestfully performed.