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A CD with two orchestral showpieces, masterfully played by Spano & his Atlanta crew, that should do wonders for Higdon’s name. If you don’t know the name already, just know that in 20 years she’ll be the reigning queen of American composition. She’s got the high profile education and she’s definitely got the chops. $5 says she wins the Pewlitt Surprise by 2010.
City Scape has lead billing. It’s an homage to the Atlanta of her youth, with fast-slow-fast movements inspired by the city’s skyline, parks, and Peachtree Street. It’s the middle movement that is the most attractive, with some confident and soaring Copland-ish writing.
The Concerto for Orchestra, like Bartok’s, has 5 movements, but the similarities end there. For example, the piece opens with bells doubled by timpanis while the strings swirl around. The 2nd movement is a lively string only affair – a pizzicato dance that slowly becomes bowed. The 4th movement is a percussion section showcase: shimmery water gong thingies, blocks, lots of wailing on drums. This leads without pause into the final movement, an accelerating roller coaster propelled by the timpani to a bring-’em-to-their-feat climax.
Everything that’s good about City Scape is even better in the Concerto for Orchestra: infectious and engaging polyrhythms, challenging instrumental writing and solos, bright climaxes. In both, there is a distinct lack of melody and formal structure (not that these are as needed in a concerto for orchestra), and after the disk has played you’ll only remember that it was a terribly exciting listen.
-Cujo, KFJC, September 2006
I neglected to mention that Symphony Silicon Valley is playing the Concerto on Sept 30 and Oct 1 at the California Theater. Recommended if you want to hear an orchestra get a workout live (Borodin’s Steppes (yum) and Tchaikovsky’s Little Russian (blah) also on the program): http://www.symphonysiliconvalley.org/index.php
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