Rouse: Passion Wheels; Ku-Ka-Ilimoku; Concerto per corde; Ogoun Badagris

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WORKS: Passion Wheels; Ku-Ka-Ilimoku; Concerto per corde; Ogoun Badagris
PERFORMER: Concordia Orchestra/Marin Alsop
CATALOGUE NO: 3-7468-2
Christopher Rouse’s Concerto per corde of 1990 was written in homage to Shostakovich. Accordingly, it emulates almost to a fault Shostakovich’s bleak world, the outer movements slow, dark, spare and haunting, moving semitonally, the middle one containing something of biting energy and dense, furious counterpoints of a Bartók fast movement. There’s reference, too, to the DSCH motif, just to make the homage clear, but as a whole the work feels rather reactionary in manner and language, a feeling compounded by the end of its finale, which sounds like a cross between Copland in open prairie mode and Barber in Adagio mode. The opening and closing, relatively brief percussion pieces, Ku-Ka-Ilimoku and Ogoun Badagris (whose titles come respectively from the name of a Hawaiian god and that of a Haitian voodoo deity) have different models, as one might expect, though they are equally obvious. Here the manner is a mix of Cage, Varèse and Xenakis. The most imposing piece, and the one that comes closest to defining a clear-cut, personal language, is the one that gives the disc its name. Composed in 1983, Rotae passionis is scored for just seven players. Departing from the opening ‘Circular Lament – Agony in the Garden’, scored for clarinet and percussion, Rouse takes the listener on a kind of circular tour through the Stations of the Cross – the ‘Rotae passionis’ section itself – before closing with a contemplative ‘Rota parallela – Christus in somno’ (Parallel wheel – Christ asleep). The work is technically challenging, unselfconscious in both its gestural expressivity and in its modernist manner (think Messiaen/Boulez/Ligeti), and it’s played and recorded beautifully, as is everything on the disc, by the Concordia Orchestra under Marin Alsop. Stephen Pettitt