Not Great American Symphonic Music, Unfortunately

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 7

Actually, there is one unambiguously great work here: Ruggles’ Sun-Treader, but it receives the least persuasive performance. David Alan Miller is, of course, a highly capable conductor, but the orchestra–despite individually fine first-desk players–is really second rate as an ensemble. Mushy timpani, tentative brass, and balances hampered by dead acoustics result in a performance hardly comparable to outstanding versions by MTT (Boston/DG) or Dohnanyi (Cleveland/Decca). Ruggles’ gnarly counterpoint and dense dextures need to be rendered with razor sharp clarity, and they aren’t here.

As for the rest, the Stucky Second Conceto for Orchestra won a Pulitzer Prize, not that this means anything. The work is easy to listen to, instrumentally virtuosic, and totally forgettable. Harbison’s Fourth belongs to the composer’s long line of quasi-tonal, expressively ambiguous, harmonically pretty ugly orchestral works. It has five movements: Fanfare, Intermezzo, Scherzo, Threnody and Finale, and sounds as though it’s constantly trying to find a tune and never quite succeeding.

I take it as given that Miller has the measure of both pieces, and conducts them well. The orchestra, again, is nothing special, but certainly good enough to tell us that neither work merits special attention. You want to love this, to be able to give it a full-throated recommendation, but the reality demands otherwise.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Ruggles: MTT (DG); Dohnanyi (Decca)

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