COMPOSERS: Barber,Copland & Higdon,Theofanidis
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Rainbow Body
WORKS: Works by Theofanidis, Barber, Copland & Higdon
PERFORMER: Atlanta SO/Robert Spano
CATALOGUE NO: CD-80596
The booklet note attempts to align this CD with the populist, anti-modernist agenda now pervading American music. Aaron Copland is praised for recanting his early modernism (so what about the late serial works?), Samuel Barber for his courage in sticking to his personal style (so is Elliott Carter cowardly or insincere?) and Christopher Theofanidis and Jennifer Higdon for their eagerness to explain themselves to audiences (so doesn’t Birtwistle give interviews?). Moreover, the contemporary pieces, both played by the Atlanta Symphony during the 2001/2 season, seem driven by the same agenda. The ‘halo’-surrounded chant by Hildegard of Bingen in Theofanidis’s Rainbow Body, the solo melodies over tinkling and tolling bells of Higdon’s Blue Cathedral, and the big brassy climaxes of both, are hardly likely to upset any listener familiar with, say, the film scores of John Williams. But should that be the limit of composers’ ambitions?
Robert Spano gives what are clearly sympathetic and thoroughly prepared performances of both works, alongside an outstandingly clear and well-paced account of Copland’s familiar Appalachian Spring suite, and a reading of Barber’s dramatic, closely knit First Symphony in which the players seem less fully engaged. The recording is uneven in some of its highlighting of the wind instruments, and somewhat lacking in lustre. My benchmark in Appalachian Spring remains Copland’s own astonishingly fresh-sounding 1959 Boston recording; and in the Barber it’s David Zinman with the Baltimore Symphony, excellently recorded. But these individual recommendations are hardly relevant: either you buy into the package or you don’t. Anthony Burton