Major Orchestral Works by Stacy Garrop

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Cedille has given Stacy Garrop’s music a lot of attention, and it isn’t difficult to understand why. She is one of the few modern composers in the latest “back to tonality” style who has managed to create a genuinely personal idiom, both attractive but never cheap or “dumbed down.” It has something to do with her handling of dissonance. A phrase may begin in a kind of atonal nether-region, but as the musical paragraph takes shape and builds to a climax, it becomes harmonically clearer and more focused. Rather than sounding conventional, this technique gives her music direction and impulse, and permits her to achieve drama without resorting to cliché. In short, it’s good stuff.

Most of Garrop’s music has some sort of programmatic underpinning, and perhaps as a result of the concept’s inherent subjectivity, it’s not entirely free of occasional conflict between what she says she means and how the music actually sounds. This was certainly the case, in my opinion, with the two string quartets that I have heard on this same label, but it’s not an issue here. The Mythology Symphony is only a “symphony” in the sense that, say, Dougherty’s “Metropolis” Symphony and Ives’ “Holidays” Symphony are symphonies. It’s really five tone poems grouped together by a shared mythological program. Otherwise there is nothing symphonic about it, either is form or sequence of moods. Indeed, like the Ives, the individual movements, played continuously, reveal a certain similarity of form. Save for the wonderfully scary first movement, “Becoming Medusa,” they tend to start quietly or gently, build to a big central climax, and then ebb away–although each does it in its own way. Apart from that powerful opening, the most outstanding parts (in my view) are the central “The Lovely Sirens” (which features a pretty cool shipwreck) and the perky finale, “Pandora Undone.” That said, the whole work is full of color and invention whether taken in bits or as a whole.

Thunderwalker, a three-movement triptych, may be the most successful piece on the disc in the sense that the title gives an excellent sense of what to expect, and the music delivers the goods with effortless virtuosity and accuracy. Garrop captures a series of mysterious, primal, ritualistic moods while exploiting the full resources of her chamber orchestra. The final piece, Shadow, does much the same, perhaps to slightly less impressive effect. Still, Garrop’s is a powerful musical personality, one well worth getting to know.

I continue to be astonished at the high quality of so many semi-professional and school orchestras these days. The playing of the CCPA (Chicago College of the Performing Arts) Symphony and Chamber Orchestras under, respectively, Alondra de la Parra and Markand Thakar, is amazingly confident, at times brilliant. I can’t believe that Garrop would have been anything but extremely pleased at the excellently engineered results, and you will surely feel similarly.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

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