Michael Daugherty gets a lot of attention these days because of his music’s reference to pop culture–and to the extent that he follows Dvorák’s dictum that there’s no inherent conflict between finding inspiration in the songs of “the people” and writing in large, classical forms, he’s on solid ground. I have enjoyed most of his works, especially the Metropolis Symphony (based on the Superman comics), though I felt his opera Jackie O left a lot to be desired. Here, however, we have two works that show him at his best, even if the mix of elements will be familiar to anyone who has heard previous discs devoted to his output.
Philadelphia Stories offers a characterful triptych of portraits, starting with an urban musical collage and proceeding to a luscious central interlude inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”. It ends with a riotous and wonderful tribute to Leopold Stokowski’s Philadelphia Orchestra golden age in the form of a massively entertaining, partly real/partly fake Baroque transcription with all of the bells and gongs that the Maestro loved so much. It’s an extremely well-written and clever piece, wonderfully played by Marin Alsop and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. I don’t want to take anything away from their excellent effort by saying that I find it pathetic that the Philadelphia Orchestra itself, which seems to have the wherewithal to pay its players a base salary starting in the six figures, can’t bestir itself to record important commissioned works. On the other hand, if they want to marginalize themselves in favor of fine artists like Alsop and her Coloradoans, then so be it.
UFO is yet another percussion concerto inspired by the artistry of Evelyn Glennie, and it’s interesting to see how Daugherty uses the amusing premise to write “far out” music that otherwise might send conservative concert-goers screaming from the hall. Full of evocative, film score-ish sounds, this is actually the work’s second recording (an earlier version on Klavier features Glennie with the North Texas Wind Symphony). Daugherty is not, by the way, the first composer to have some fun with this theme: there is also a movement called “Flying Saucers” in English composer George Lloyd’s Charade Suite (available on Albany). In any event, the piece is great fun in both its tuneful and spacey passages, and it’s extremely inventive in its writing for the soloist. It goes without saying that Glennie is stupendous, though I find the recording places her too close and so tends to diminish the contribution of the orchestra. Still, this disc adds yet another highly enjoyable success to Naxos’ remarkable American Music series.