Alan Gilbert / New York Philharmonic

Christopher Rouse: Odna Zhizn; Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4; Prospero's Rooms

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As the Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence with the New York Philharmonic from 2012 to 2015, Christopher Rouse composed four major orchestral works that receive their world premiere recordings on this 2016 release by Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic. Rouse is widely admired for his originality and masterful use of instruments, and he has thrilled audiences with the high energy and rhythmic vitality of his scores. Yet Rouse is also something of a philosopher and a mystic, and he often explores aspects of creativity and life beyond the notes on the printed page. In his best music, there is usually a tension between abstract formal considerations and subjective or programmatic content that may not be apparent on first hearing. True to form, the works here are impressive showpieces that are appealing for Rouse's brilliant handling of the orchestra, and intriguing for their layers of subtext. While the Symphony No. 3 is a nod to Prokofiev and Beethoven, and the Symphony No. 4 is a study of musical expression and communication, both symphonies can be enjoyed as abstract concert works. However, Odna Zhizn (from Russian, "A Life") is constructed from names and phrases spelled out as musical pitches, and composed as a tribute to an unidentified person, known only to the composer. Based on Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of the Red Death, Prospero's Rooms is a compelling depiction of the tale, though much of the mystery is left to the imagination of the listener. Gilbert and his musicians create great drama in these performances, and the power of Rouse's music is effectively conveyed, even though understanding the underpinnings of these pieces may require repeated listening. Thanks to Dacapo's expert recording, the live performances are clear and virtually noise-free, so practically every note is audible. Highly recommended.

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