Review by: David Hurwitz
Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 9
Reflections on the Mississippi is a tuba concerto, one of the few that probably stands a chance of entering the repertoire and becoming a popular favorite. That brings the viable repertoire for tuba and orchestra to a total of two works, the other being the Vaughan Williams concerto. The sad truth is that most tuba concertos are simply terrible and richly deserve their obscurity, but Michael Daugherty has given the music a great deal of thought and has come up with an evocative quartet of movements (Mist, Fury, Prayer, Steamboat) that permits the soloist a huge range of expression in a style–typically tinged with rock, pop, gospel, and jazz–that suits the instrument singularly well.
The piece was commissioned by Temple University’s Boyer College of Music and Dance, and it’s sensationally well played by Philadelphia Orchestra tubist Carol Jantsch. Her tone is deep and mysterious in the opening movement, and her feats of acrobatics amazingly nimble in “Fury” and the concluding “Steamboat”. It helps that the music itself overflows (no pun intended) with good tunes, humor, and character. The Temple University Symphony Orchestra under conductor Luis Biava accompanies with plenty of confidence and pizzazz, and sounds fully professional in the best sense. This is a major new work, and the College should be proud of its role in bringing it to the light of day.
Now for the bad news. The Daugherty is obviously the reason for releasing this disc, but its 20 minutes hardly suffices for an entire CD, and so someone had the not very bright idea of coupling Reflections on the Mississippi with Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony. Don’t get me wrong, the orchestra plays with admirable precision and clean ensemble, but the interpretation is very cautious, with each quick movement notably under tempo. Anyway, what business has this symphony sharing a disc with the Daugherty? It simply couldn’t be more superfluous.
I am delighted to welcome productions such as this that feature excellent new works, making them available for purchase by the general public, but if orchestras and performing arts institutions want to self-produce and play in the big leagues, they have to play smart. Temple University once delighted music lovers when its Kazoo Choir released (on vinyl) a coupling of Beethoven’s Fifth and Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra. Now that was an imaginative release! This disc has 20 minutes of splendid music on it. Even if I recommend the Daugherty wholeheartedly, and I do, I suspect that for many listeners that will hardly be enough.
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