Thomas: …Words of the Sea…; In My Sky at Twilight

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Augusta Read Thomas
WORKS: …Words of the Sea…; In My Sky at Twilight
PERFORMER: Christine Brandes (soprano); Chicago SO, MusicNOW Ensemble/Pierre Boulez
‘I like music that is alive, which jumps off the page and out of the instrument as if something big is at stake.’ The American composer Augusta Read Thomas, 40 last year, clearly writes that kind of music, too. Her 1996 …words of the sea… jumps out of the speakers at the start with exceptional vividness, and compels attention throughout what is in effect a four-movement, 17-minute sea symphony for large orchestra. And if her 2002 In My Sky at Twilight, for soprano and 18 instruments, makes less of an impact, that’s perhaps because its carefully constructed anthology of texts in celebration and remembrance of love leaves the music only a supporting role. The earlier piece was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony shortly before Thomas became its composer in residence, a post she holds until 2006; both it and the song cycle were premiered by the orchestra under Pierre Boulez, whose presence virtually guarantees the reliability and precision of these performances. The soprano Christine Brandes is bright and clear, as are the recordings. In terms of the market, this self-produced CD suffers from its short playing-time and some unhelpfully pretentious booklet notes (not by Thomas herself). But as a musical calling card it’s most impressive. Anthony Burton