Zwilich: Symphony No. 3; Oboe Concerto; Concerto Grosso

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WORKS: Symphony No. 3; Oboe Concerto; Concerto Grosso
PERFORMER: John Mark (oboe); Louisville Orchestra/James Sedares
It’s hard to know what is more depressing: the fact that the American composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich has won so many prizes, or the music that has gained her these honours. History is, of course, littered with artists who failed to win prizes – the rebels who wanted their music different – and craftspeople who got ten-out-of-ten for technical correctness but had nothing to say. Zwilich (b1939) was a student of Roger Sessions and Elliott Carter but there’s not a hint of either composer’s influence.


This disc of ‘world premiere recordings’ comprises works dating from 1985 to 1992. The earliest, the Concerto Grosso, is an academically ‘correct’, 20th-century pastiche of Handel with Coplandish wide-open-prairie strings to clanky harpsichord, ‘wrong-note’ 18th-century harmonies and played with (inauthentic?) full-blooded vibrato. The 1990 Oboe Concerto is played by the oboist for whom it was written, John Mark, a musician of distinction. Alas, the work has no such distinction.


Zwilich’s Third Symphony (1992), commissioned by the New York PO, displays sentimentality without guts. Her bland music is perfect for America’s numerous colleges – where it should remain. The Louisville Orchestra with James Sedares plays adequately. Annette Morreau