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Corigliano: Piano Concerto; Ticheli: Radiant Voices, Postcard / Lefevre, St. Clair


Release Date: 08/23/1994 
Label:  Koch International Classics Catalog #: 7250   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  John CoriglianoFrank Ticheli
Performer:  Alain Lefèvre
Conductor:  Carl St. Clair
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pacific Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 59 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

About a decade ago, I had a very vague impression of John Corigliano's work, derived from snippets of his oboe, clarinet, and flute concertos that I had heard over the radio. At the time my reaction was dismissive; I assumed he was a superficial composer, eager to please the audience at any price, using a hodgepodge of techniques to create an effect-driven, soundtrack-like music. While that remains the opinion of many listeners I know, I now believe that I was wrong. What turned me around were two pieces in the 1980s, the Symphony No. 1 (commonly known as “the AIDS symphony“), and the opera The Ghosts of Versailles. Each had extraordinarily dramatic impact, derived from an uninhibited expressivity combined with a technical range that Read more embraced both modernist techniques and neo-romantic lyricism. Indeed, I remain somewhat awed by the opera; it is one of the savviest music theater works I have encountered in a long time, expertly parodying the Mozartean canon, simultaneously mocking and flattering the core opera audience, and telling a tale of love across time and death that takes on especial poignancy in the age of AIDS. In short, Corigliano now looks like a truly major American composer, and in that light his earlier works demand renewed study. Koch has done an excellent service in releasing the 1968 piano concerto, in a spectacular performance by Alain Lefevre with Carl St. Clair conducting the Pacific Symphony Orchestra.

More than any other composer of his generation, Corigliano has succeeded in bringing atonal-expressionist vocabulary into the mainstream concert hall, and making audiences love it despite themselves. There are several reasons for this: 1) He has never abandoned tonality. One can always count on some section of a Corigliano work to have a gorgeous singing line, and the piano concerto is no exception. In the second theme of the massive opening movement one has a tune worthy of Bernstein in its bittersweetness; 2) He uses dissonant materials with an unerring dramatic sense. This comes in part from Corigliano's experience with film composing (his score for Ken Russell's Altered States is one of the best), where one learns an audience will accept anything, so long as it is tied to an appropriate emotional moment or state. In the piano concerto, a brilliant example of this is the second movement, a demonic scherzo that links highly chromatic lines to an irrestistable rhythmic propulsion; and 3) Corigliano has never forgotten the importance of musical rhetoric. His works are built on both the sense of grand narrative one senses in the nineteenth-century tradition, and in the aforementioned discourse of film composition. (Indeed, one could assert that Corigliano has adapted the ' 'popular' ' language of film music to the high-art demands of the classical tradition the same way Gershwin brought jazz and Tin Pan Alley into the concert hall.) This belief in narrative over structure makes Corigliano somewhat old-fashioned artistically, but it makes him very audience-friendly. Of course, there are things to criticize, such as the snippet of Dies Irae worked into the third movement, to my ear a tired reference. But that's just a quibble. This is a music which could be, almost should be kitsch, but somehow avoids that pitfall through the combination of brilliant technique, high imagination, and sheer chutzpah.

Frank Ticheli is about twenty years Corigliano's junior, but he holds his own in this powerful company. He is the resident composer with Pacific Symphony, and the two works on this disc are part of a series of works he has composed for them. Ticheli's early reputation has been based mostly on his compositions for band, but here he shows an instinctive feel for the orchestra that is utterly idiomatic, not at all like band music transcribed. Like Corigliano, he is unafraid of both lyricism and complexity. The first half of Radiant Voices is distinguished by music that is exceptionally complex and dense, yet also transparent in texture—quite a technical coup. This thins out to a much slower, more serene second half. (I have heard Ticheli speak about the piece, and he remarks that it was begun around the time of Los Angeles riots. Even though there is little that is programmatic in the piece, it seems a gently optimistic response to tragic circumstances.) Postcard was originally a band work and translates brilliantly to the orchestra, a five-minute energy rush. If I have any criticism, it is that in both pieces Ticheli pushes toward an ending that is too pat, too big a bang for the material preceding it. That bespeaks a desire to please an audience that needs some tempering. But aside from that, this is a young composer to watch. The Pacific Symphony should be congratulated both on its enlightened decision to actively promote a composer-in-residence, and to have chosen this composer.

The Pacific Symphony is the orchestra of Orange County, California. They sound magnificent in this recording, with a rich, full sonority and flawless ensemble. Much of the credit should go to Carl St. Clair, who until recently was an assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony, and had garnered exceptional praise in that intensely critical musical environment. Southern California is lucky to have him. As said before, Alain Lefevre is spectacular. He has steely fingers and an enormous sound. I can only hope he gets to record a number of Romantic warhorse concertos, because he brings a great intelligence to his already prodigious technique. The sound of the recording is wonderful. Run out and buy it.

-- Robert Carl, FANFARE [11/1994] Read less

Works on This Recording

1. Concerto for Piano by John Corigliano
Performer:  Alain Lefèvre (Piano)
Conductor:  Carl St. Clair
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pacific Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1968; USA 
Venue:  Orange County Performing Arts Center, CA 
Length: 34 Minutes 14 Secs. 
2. Radiant Voices by Frank Ticheli
Conductor:  Carl St. Clair
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pacific Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1992; USA 
Venue:  Orange County Performing Arts Center, CA 
Length: 19 Minutes 35 Secs. 
3. Postcard by Frank Ticheli
Conductor:  Carl St. Clair
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pacific Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1991; USA 
Venue:  Orange County Performing Arts Center, CA 
Length: 5 Minutes 40 Secs. 
Notes: Orchestrated: Frank Ticheli (1993) 

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