American composer Steven Stucky has done better than almost any of his peers at bridging the gulf between academic composition and the everyday requirements of orchestras with paying audiences. His music is rigorously orchestrated, representational, and evocative without being obvious about it, and presented in easily digestible chunks. It is atonal, but the focus is on the instrumental writing rather than on tonality. Sweden's audiophile BIS label has done a better job with new American music than companies in America itself, and this group of three orchestral pieces makes a good fit for the label and its new Asian showpiece ensemble, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. The most exciting work is the opening Spirit Voices for percussion and orchestra, composed for the forces heard on this recording. It is indeed good to hear Scots percussionist Evelyn Glennie in a recording with music and engineering commensurate with her talents. The seven movements of Stucky's piece correspond to seven spirits from around the world: China, Scotland, Wales, Maori New Zealand, the Navajo, Japan, and Native America more generally. The essential character of each movement is explained in notes by Paul Griffiths (in English, German, and French), based on an essay accompanying the work by the composer himself; Griffiths is an elegant, veteran writer, but one wonders why Stucky's own comments weren't included. At any rate, these are lovely little pieces that combine character study and a bit of mystery. The Pinturas de Tamayo are "pictures at an exhibition" inspired by paintings by Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo; they avoid Latin sound in favor of general mood and geometric shape, which is entirely in keeping with the artistic source material. Some listeners may find the abstract Second Concerto for Orchestra the least convincing piece on the program, but it received the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 and was composed for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its new Disney Hall. The entirely able Singapore Symphony and conductor Lan Shui get a workout, at least, and the entire production will let owners of good equipment show off their stuff. Recommended for those interested in contemporary American orchestral music.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Spirit Voices, for percussionist and orchestra|
|Pinturas de Tamayo (Paintings of Tamayo), for orchestra|
|Second Concerto for Orchestra|
2. Variations. Andante calmato. / Variation 1. Largo rubato / Variation 2. Moderato, giocoso / Variation 3. Comodo / Variation 4. Lento / Variation 5. Vivace / Variation 6. Largo assai