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Corigliano: Conjurer, Vocalise / Glennie, Plitmann, Miller, Albany Symphony

Corigliano / Glennie / Albany Symphony Orchestra
Release Date: 09/24/2013 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559757  
Composer:  John Corigliano
Performer:  Evelyn GlennieHila PlitmannMark Baechle
Conductor:  David Alan Miller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Albany Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CORIGLIANO Conjurer 1. Vocalise 2 David Alan Miller, cond; 1 Evelyn Glennie (perc); 2 Hila Plitmann (sop); 2 Mark Baechle (electronics); Albany SO NAXOS 8.559757 (57:43)

When he was first asked to write a percussion concerto, John Corigliano Read more was reluctant. Percussion concertos he had heard too often sounded “like orchestral pieces with an extra-large percussion section,” with little or none of the interaction between soloists and ensemble which is the hallmark of the form. The problem was the very nature of many percussion instruments, which produce no discernable pitch on which to build melodic material. One answer has been to limit the solo line to pitched percussion, and some composers have quite successfully created concertos for marimba or xylophone. In Conjurer (2007), Corigliano has done that one better, creating a Concerto that uses a large range of percussion instruments, pitched and unpitched, in which the melodic material is introduced— conjured as the title suggests—by the percussionist and then developed by the orchestra and soloist, much as would happen in any solo concerto.

The trick is the clever use of sequences in which pitches are implied for the unpitched instruments. It would be merely clever, though, if Corigliano had not succeeded in his real goal. This he has done brilliantly, not only creating exciting soundscapes of a dizzying variety of percussion instruments, but also using those sounds to create real music with emotional and dramatic depth. In this, he is fortunate to have the services of that most musical of percussion virtuosos, Evelyn Glennie, who plays all of the many instruments with great subtlety, or dazzling élan, as the situation requires.

The work is divided into three movements, each preceded by an extended cadenza in which the thematic material is revealed and presented to the string orchestra. Each movement showcases a particular percussion family: wood, metal, and skin. The character of the melodic material created by each family is part of the genius of the work. I will not spoil the fun of the discovery, but I will state that the movement in which tenderness and mystery predominate does not come from the family one might instinctively expect. Further delight arises when the composer uses his strings to create percussive effects to accompany the melodic lines of the percussion instruments. I cannot but imagine that we will be hearing this work a lot, as every percussionist with the chops will want a shot at this work. It’s a tour de force for the soloist, and a musical work of real merit.

The accompanying work, which dates from eight years earlier, finds Corigliano experimenting with a different sort of sonority—that of the human voice—and with the use of electronics to enhance and augment it. Commissioned by Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic, the wordless Vocalise begins with a soprano voice—the pure and very lovely voice of Hila Plitmann—with a few instrumentalists in the acoustic realm. Corigliano then gradually begins to amplify it, as electronic effects add to the accompaniment, eventually enlarging the voice into a Wizard of Oz-like presence dominating an augmented orchestra climax of Straussian dimensions. The work ends as quietly as it begins, but with the voice subsumed into the echoes of the electronic processing, which, as Corigliano describes it, “gently surround the audience.”

Mark Baechle is credited with producing and performing the electronics, and the sound design—an essential part of this work—is credited to Teese Gohl and Angie Teo. (Such things are very much the creative work of humans, not “soulless machines.”) David Alan Miller and the Albany Symphony Orchestra, usually heard on the Albany label, provide impressive accompaniment to the superb soloists. The recording of Conjurer was made in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, with the exemplary results we have come to expect from that venue. Vocalise was recorded at the Experimental Media Performing Arts Center—who knew there was such a thing outside of Paris?—of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, also in Troy and with an equally fine outcome. Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary composition or exemplary percussion playing will want to hear this release.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Conjurer by John Corigliano
Performer:  Evelyn Glennie (Percussion)
Conductor:  David Alan Miller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Albany Symphony Orchestra
Written: 2007 
Vocalise by John Corigliano
Performer:  Hila Plitmann (Soprano), Mark Baechle (Electronics)
Conductor:  David Alan Miller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Albany Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1999 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  4 Customer Reviews )
 A musical percussion concerto April 14, 2014 By ben cutler (somerville, NJ) See All My Reviews "The second work on this disc is a “Vocalise” for Soprano, Orchestra and Electronic sounds. It is disappointing first of all because I know that John Corigliano can take this music and do it far better. What is very good in this music is a seven note musical motive that, as harmonized, is gorgeous and it, alone, deserves the title, Vocalise. Had Mr. Corigliano filled his nineteen minutes with only these seven notes in all their melodic and electronic implications and forms he would have produced a work truly worth returning to and I look forward to the time when he does, because he is more capable than perhaps any American composer of doing just that. As for his electronics, in this work he seems to not know exactly what he wants. In the U. S., Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky did this sort of thing far better back in the early ‘50s. Their Poem for Cycles and Bells is a masterpiece of the literature now conveniently forgotten but crying out for a revival. When Mr. Corigliano was asked to write a concerto for percussionist and orchestra, percussionist!, mind you, he was understandably uncertain how he would be able to produce a satisfactory work. So, as a listener, I shared some of Corigliano’s trepidations, especially as this concerto goes on for a remarkable 37 minutes!!! Well this music turns out to be quite good indeed, just what you would expect of him. The organization of the concerto consists of pairs of movements, the pairs devoted to Wood, Metal and Skin instruments respectively. Each pair consists of a short solo for the selected percussion category followed by a longer movement combined with orchestra. Sounds dry doesn’t it. Not at all! There is a sense of naturalness and informality to all this percussion as if you invited to a party to explore these sounds along with the composer. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would fall for a percussion concerto. The Albany Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Alan Miller do a magnificent job as they always do." Report Abuse
 Magical Performances January 20, 2014 By Ralph Graves (Hood, VA) See All My Reviews "This new recording brings together two unusual additions to John Corigliano's repertoire. "Conjurer" is a percussion concerto composed for Evelyn Glennie (who performs on this release). The work has six sections: three cadenzas, and three movements, labeled Wood, Metal, and Skin. Each movement uses percussion instruments only belonging to its own group. Corigliano blends tonal and non-tonal percussion instruments with alacrity. Each cadenza leads into a movement where the string orchestra further develops the themes, along with the soloist. It's an effective work when done well -- and in this recording, it's done very well. "Vocalise" is the older of the two works, being completed in 1999. This challenging work for soprano, electronics and orchestra plays against audience expectations. When the piece begins, it sounds like a typical contemporary work. The melody seems to skip all over the place, the electronics add a strangeness and artificiality to the sound, and the orchestra bloops and bleeps away with tone clusters and glissandi. But very soon things start to change. Like a flower blossoming, the work opens up. The melody becomes more tonal, the electronics more subtle, and the ensemble more expansive. It ends quietly, having made the journey through the full potential of the human voice. The Albany symphony performs admirably in both works. Soprano Hila Plitmann has a pure sustained tone that gives her performance an ethereal quality -- one in keeping with the intent of "Vocalise." Recommended." Report Abuse
 Great CD December 18, 2013 By Joe S. See All My Reviews "John Corigliano is consistently one of the best American composers alive. Ever since listening to his Symphony No. 1 in college I’ve been hooked on his music. This album of his music with the Albany Symphony under David Alan Miller is no exception. The first piece, Conjurer, is Corigliano’s first percussion concerto, featuring Dame Evelyn Glennie as the soloist. The piece addresses Corigliano’s concerns with the run-of-the-mill concerti where the soloist is just a glorified drumset accompanying the orchestra—so he takes care to have the themes emerge from the soloist. There are some raucous passages and some very cool timbres. I like the idea of using a non-pitched keyboard of woodblocks to augment the marimba sound, and there are some strange glisses Glennie gets out of a “talking drum”. The middle section entitled “Metal” is a little long, but I was okay with it because I was preparing for the craziness to come in the final movement. I knew Corigliano wouldn’t leave me hanging. I was very scared to listen to Vocalise. In my experience, vocalises have almost-exclusively been navel-gazing student works. Add to that my PTSD from studying Babbitt’s Philomel in college, a harshly modernist work for vocalist and electronics, suffice it to say I was reticent. What I got was an entirely different experience. While I was expecting electronic augmentation the whole time, instead it was tastefully folded into the sound of the whole orchestra. If you’re scared of electronic stuff, you emphatically should not be with this piece. The lack of text is a little weird for a 20 minute work, but the piece blossoms with moments that almost sound like Tchaikovsky. John Corigliano consistently creates accessible music that still manages to have wild gestures throughout. I highly recommend this album if you are a percussionist or if you’re trying to ease your way into listening to electronic music. Cool stuff." Report Abuse
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