David Del Tredici: An Alice Symphony

Phyllis Bryn-Julson / Oliver Knussen / Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra

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David Del Tredici: An Alice Symphony Review

by Joseph Stevenson

This is a "live" recording made on August 7, 1991 of the first complete performance of David Del Tredici's An Alice Symphony. The work was composed in 1969 and revised in 1976. Since Del Tredici had two pending commissions for shorter orchestral works in hand when he wrote this forty-minute symphony, he separated the work into two two-movement pieces and had them performed that way. This satisfied the commission and got the music played, but it resulted in confusion and prevented its being heard as intended for over twenty years.

The performance was held at the Theatre-Concert Hall at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts. The audience is mostly quiet (although there are moments of laughter) and engineer Richard King achieves a natural and clear sound despite the difficulties of recording on site. Nor does one have to make allowances for problems arising in live performance, which is remarkable for such a complex work receiving its first integral performance. Oliver Knussen is outstanding conducting the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra.

The star of the recording is soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson, one of the finest American sopranos, particularly on the new music scene. She must read sections of Lewis Carroll's text. She howls as the mistreated baby in the first scene and sings gently in a song advising kinder treatment of children. There is wistfulness in the Lobster songs, and frenzy in the final scene, the trial In Re: The stolen tarts.

One also has to praise the nicely illustrated and very informative fold-out program booklet featuring the composer amid whimsical statues of characters from the Alice stories. This is wild and often complex music that is not for everyone, but this recording makes an excellent case for it.

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