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Zwilich: Symphony No 4, Concerto For Horn, Concerto For Bass Trombone / Gregorian

Release Date: 11/28/2000 
Label:  Koch International Classics Catalog #: 7487   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ellen Taaffe Zwilich
Performer:  Charles VernonDavid Jolley
Conductor:  Leon Gregorian
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Michigan State University ChorusMichigan State University Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 0 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Here is more highly listenable and tonal music by a contemporary American composer—see my review of works by Lowell Liebennann elsewhere in this issue. I am ashamed to say that I don't recall ever hearing a note by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich until now, even though she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983, and was the first person to be named to the Composer's Chair in Carnegie Hall. Stop me, then, if I make any unfair generalizations about her work based on what I heard on this CD.

The symphony was commissioned by two Michigan State University alumni "to pay tribute to the campus and the gardens." I find that a delightful idea—it neatly circumvents the pomposity that one might easily fall into with a strictly academic theme.
Read more Zwilich treats the concept imaginatively. In the first movement the choristers intone the Latin names of several threatened or endangered plants exhibited in MSU's Beai Botanical Garden. The music is dignified, yet the urgency is real. The second movement, for orchestra alone, is a "Meditation on Living Fossils," which I gather are ancient trees. Zwilich must have a little Druidic blood in her, because this movement strikingly captures the benign massiveness of some of the earth's oldest living things. The chorus returns in the third movement, which is "A Pastoral Journey" based on the biblical verse about the lilies of the field, and intended as a celebration (rather than a depiction) of MSU's gardens. The children's chorus plays handbells but doesn't sing—another delightful idea—and the movement's overall tone is one of awed wonder. The finale is "The Children's Promise"; the children's chorus now sings and accepts stewardship of all the earth's green things, and the adult choms echoes them, adding the Latin names of plants found in MSU's Children's Garden. The music becomes unmistakably life-enhancing, and there is a "feel-good" conclusion—which I must admit is not as effective as the rest of the symphony is. Koch identifies this as a "world premiere," which refers to the recording, I am guessing, not to the performance itself, because it was recorded over a span of five days in February 2000.

The Horn Concerto (1993) is in a single movement with marked changes in mood and tempo describing five sections. David Jolley, who has recorded it here, was one of the work's commissioners and its dedicatee; he premiered it with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. The mood of this work, although changeable, is relatively serious. The 20th century produced at least four mas-terworks for horn—Richard Strauss's and Hindemith's concertos, and Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings—and listeners who like any of those works probably will like Zwilich's concerto, which is tautly written, full of dramatic appeal, and sympathetic to the instrument's (and to Jolley's) potential. Jolley must be grateful for a gem such as this one; he plays it for all its considerable worth.

Zwilich was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to write two concertos for trombone—one for tenor trombone and one for bass trombone. She completed the latter work in 1989, and, as she wrote it, was cognizant of the instruments' differing sound qualities, and of different relationships between the soloist and the orchestra. Zwilich chose to make this concerto a "virtuoso bass trombone tour de force." Anyone who has played this instrument probably will have chills running down his or her spine, not just after hearing Charles Vernon's agility and solid tone, but also after hearing the quality of Zwilich's writing. Again, the mood is a serious one, even a bit driven and sinister in the finale, but listening to this concerto is like overhearing a great conversation; one is pulled in not just by what is said, but also by how it is said. The scoring, while unusual, is more than a novelty; it distinctively complements the soloist's sound.

It has been my experience that student orchestras approach the technical skills of many a professional group, and they are driven by a force sometimes absent from professionals: artistic hunger. Of course the MSU Symphony Orchestra doesn't sound like the Vienna Philharmonic, but they apparently like Zwilich's music, and put all their youthful passion and stamina into it. I have no real concerns, then, about these performances, and the music is definitely attractive. The production and engineering meet Koch's high standards.

-- Raymond Tuttle, FANFARE [3/2001] Read less

Works on This Recording

Symphony no 4 "The Gardens" by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich
Conductor:  Leon Gregorian
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Michigan State University Chorus,  Michigan State University Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1999; USA 
Language: English 
Concerto for Bass Trombone by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich
Performer:  Charles Vernon (Bass Trombone)
Conductor:  Leon Gregorian
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Michigan State University Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1989; USA 
Concerto for Horn by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich
Performer:  David Jolley (French Horn)
Conductor:  Leon Gregorian
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Michigan State University Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1993; USA 

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