Few contemporary artists have been as significant as Pulitzer Prize and GRAMMY Award winner Christopher Rouse, whose imaginative approach made him one of the most frequently performed composers during his lifetime. The Concerto for Orchestra is a ‘hyper-concerto’ that gives each player a chance to shine, while the mournful intimacy and passion of Supplica unfolds somewhat like the slow movement of a Bruckner or Mahler symphony. Rouse’s Fifth Symphony fondly recalls Beethoven’s mighty Fifth but blurs the lines between tradition and modernity, transporting the listener from turbulence to serenity. It was described as “brilliant, exciting and at times hauntingly beautiful” in The Dallas Morning News. Champions of new American music, the Nashville Symphony and its music director Giancarlo Guerrero had premiered numerous works and received 13 GRAMMY Awards including two for Best Orchestral Performance. Among their award-winning recordings include works by Michael Daugherty (Metropolis Symphony on 8.559635; Tales of Hemingway on 8.559798), Stephen Paulus (Three Places of Enlightenment on 8.559740), and Jennifer Higdon (All Things Majestic and Viola Concerto on 8.559823).
This latest issue of music by the late Christopher Rouse contains some really splendid music. Both the Fifth Symphony and the Concerto for Orchestra exploit Rouse’s ability to juxtapose music of supercharged turbulence and rhythmic bite with passages of deeply expressive lyricism. Both take the form of a single, continuous movement some thirty minutes long, but the internal structures are quite different. The symphony features two quick outer movements enfolding a mix of adagio and scherzo, while the concerto starts like a rondo with alternating fast and slow sections, before a genuine slow movement gradually gives way to a brilliant conclusion. Rouse’s music is always so effectively scored that you might call all of it “concerto for orchestra,” and both pieces are full of arresting ideas, both melodic and gestural.
Supplica is relatively brief (twelve minutes) slow movement that sounds exactly like its title suggests: supplication, prayer, or entreaty. Its scoring is quite restrained: strings harp and brass, but Rouse’s imaginative handling of sonority is everywhere in evidence, proving conclusively that he was much more than a master of splashy instrumental effects (though he was that too). It’s a lovely, passionate piece whose lyricism never sounds trite or facile. All three works here receive excellent performances by the Nashville Symphony under Giancarlo Guerrero, and they are very well engineered. Rouse was an extraordinary composer whose career ended too suddenly (he died of renal cancer in 2019, and was only 70), but his work surely deserves to endure. This release does him proud.
– ClassicsToday (David Hurwitz)