This enterprising collection of attractive, listenable contemporary music really is great fun. Michael Daugherty’s Sunset Strip offers a typically eclectic mix of classical and popular music styles, including in its finale a very ingenious tribute to Ravel’s Boléro. Escapades has the advantage of Branford Marsalis’ always-capable solo playing, but it’s also one of John Williams’ better concertante pieces, full of memorable invention, skillfully scored.
Ned Rorem’s Lions is the earliest work here, dating from 1963. Much of it is strikingly beautiful, especially the string “halos” that evoke the world of dreams that inspired its composition. Truth be told, classical/jazz fusion pieces such as this (never mind the excellent playing of the Branford Marsalis Quartet) can sound dated taken by themselves, but not in this company, as part of this particular program–an inspired way to revive a fine, neglected work.
Christopher Rouse’s Friandise is a short ballet in the form of a French baroque dance suite–sort of. The introduction is modern, the ensuing sicilienne, passepied, and sarabande clearly evoke the old school, but the brilliant concluding gallop (with its humorous salutes to composers as diverse as Offenbach and Khachaturian) brings us firmly into the 20th, or 21st century. The North Carolina Symphony plays with great spirit and dash under Grant Llewellyn. As just noted, the soloists are terrific, and the sonics, while a touch dry, let you hear everything that you need to, in just proportion. Splendid. [3/19/2009]