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Dawn to Dust - Currie, Fischer

Dawn to Dust - Currie, Fischer

Reference Recordings  FR-719SACD

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Augusta Read Thomas: EOS (Goddess of the Dawn), a Ballet for Orchestra
Nico Muhly: Control (5 Landscapes for Orchestra)
Andrew Norman: Switch*

Colin Currie* (percussion)
Utah Symphony
Thierry Fischer (conductor)

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Review by Graham Williams - April 1, 2016

'Dawn to Dust' is the apt title of this new release on the Reference Recordings Fresh! label of works commissioned from three leading American contemporary composers by the Utah Symphony as part of the orchestra's 75th anniversary celebrations during the 2015/2016 season. All three works here receive their world premier recordings in scrupulously prepared performances conducted by Thierry Fischer, the orchestra's Music Director.

The programme opens with 'Eos (Goddess of the Dawn)' by Augusta Read Thomas (b.1964) whose command of a wide ranging orchestral palette is breathtaking. She subtitles the piece 'A ballet for orchestra' and confesses in the liner notes that many of her orchestral and chamber compositions were conceived with dance in mind. Lasting around 18 minutes and played without a break, 'Eos' has seven movements each of which has a descriptive title. These, and a ballet narrative, are also reproduced in the liner notes and I found them most helpful in following the progress of the work. The music is full of ravishing orchestral sonorities, the subtle use of glittering percussion and writing for winds being immediately striking, whilst the almost Mahlerian string passages in the fourth section 'Dreams and Memories' are equally memorable. Textures have a crystalline clarity throughout and the ever changing variety of rhythmic patterns holds the listener's attention in a composition of great eloquence and lucidity.

Nico Muhly (born 1981) has composed works in many genres that include opera, ballet, sacred and pop music and has already amassed a considerable discography. His 'Control' (Five Landscapes for Orchestra) deals with Utah's spectacular natural environment and the manner in which humans interact with it. Muhly acknowledges the influence of the music of Olivier Messiaen and in particular the latter's 'Des Canyons aux Étoiles' a composition also inspired by the Utah landscape. The tiles of the work's five parts are 'Landform'– a depiction of large geological structures, 'Mountain' – an impressionistic mountain landscape in summer, 'Beehive' – industriousness that leads to technological innovation, 'Petroglyph & Tobacco' – suggestive of the resilience of Native Americans and finally 'Red Dust' – a striking feature of the St. George area of southern Utah. Though the music is harmonically complex, sometimes densely textured and often quite austere, its uncompromising originality and lack of pretension encourages repeated listening.

The programme is completed by 'Switch, a wildly energetic, one might almost say hyperactive, percussion concerto, written by Los Angeles based Andrew Norman (born 1979) and performed here with the utmost virtuosity by Colin Currie. Of the work Norman has written:

“Cast as a single movement, Switch takes off where my orchestral cycle Play left off in exploring non-linear narrative structures and video game logic. The percussionist’s many instruments act as triggers, turning other players on and off, making them play forward and backward, and causing them to jump to entirely different musical worlds.”

With an uninterrupted span of 28'34” it is the longest piece on the disc and it seems so. The music's unrelenting drive, interspersed with occasional calm passages, is at first invigorating, but quickly becomes quite exhausting even for the receptive listener. One is left wishing that|Colin Currie and the Utah Symphony's dazzling and definitive account of this theatrical piece had been given a video dimension to clarify the darting interactions between soloist and orchestra and allow the eyes to reduce some of the strain on the ears. I accept, however, that others might not share this view.

As is to be expected from this audiophile label, the sound quality on this 5.1 channel SACD (recorded and post produced in 64fs DSD)is awesome. The wide dynamic range of the recording allows both the subtlest string pianissimos and the loudest percussive climaxes to be reproduced with equal fidelity – every instrument clearly identified within a soundstage that possesses convincing width and depth. Though recorded live (February, November and December 2015) at concerts in the Maurice Abravanel Hall, Salt Lake City, the reliable team of Dirk Sobotka. John Newton and Mark Donahue from Soundmirror, Boston, have ensured no audience noise is audible and applause has also been excised.

Exemplary notes on these compositions written by their respective composers complete this stimulating release.

Copyright © 2016 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Stereo):

Sonics (Multichannel):

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Comment by hiredfox - May 7, 2016 (1 of 2)

Graham, would you regard this as any more than a demo disc? I've seen/heard Currie in performance at Bournemouth under Marin Alsop's leadership (not this piece, I hasten to add) and what he does is indeed spectacular but your review includes an appreciated health warning. If the other works are in similar vein then it is probably not one for serious collectors?

Comment by Graham Williams - May 13, 2016 (2 of 2)

John
For me the Augusta Read Thomas ballet EOS is the finest work on this disc and repeated listening of it has made me wish to explore more of her music. Others might feel the same way about the, very different, Nico Muhly and Andrew Norman works. This is much more than 'a demonstration disc' though the quality of the recorded sound is such that it could certainly be used for that purpose.