Cho-Liang Lin / Giancarlo Guerrero / Nashville Symphony

Joan Tower: Violin Concerto; Stroke; Chamber Dance

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Joan Tower was one of the first major composers to break with serialist orthodoxy and pursue more communicative content; she has been rewarded with frequent performances, especially of her orchestral scores. This group of three pieces, admirably performed by the underrated Nashville Symphony Orchestra (when you listen to a Patsy Cline record, that's who you're hearing), gives a good introduction to the later part of Tower's career. She continues to use complex structures, but they coalesce into programmatic representations that may have considerable power. That development is on full display in Stroke (2010), which is dedicated to the composer's brother in the aftermath of the medical crisis named in the title. The work technically is about violent disruption, followed by inertia and depression. The Violin Concerto of 1991, one of Tower's most popular works, is given a strong performance here by Cho-Liang Lin; it's a virtuoso piece that is less thoroughly programmatic than Stroke, but nevertheless embodies the ideas of conversation and rhetoric in a sort of grand extension of Baroque ideas. The Chamber Dance is a pure crowd-pleaser that lives up to its name with energetic tutti-solo alternations. Here too, the orchestral writing is brilliant, and the Nashville musicians under Giancarlo Guerrero deserve credit across the board. Recommended.

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