American composer Mason Bates has held several prestigious composer-in-residence positions and has become adept at creating works -- colorful, energetic, and fun -- that serve the needs of the post. His angle has often been to combine electronica with conventional orchestral instruments, but here he has a large battery of percussion stand in for the electronics without inflicting damage on his style. Anthology of Fantastic Zoology takes its title from a little-known collection of stories by Jorge Luis Borges and Margarita Guerrero, but its real inspiration is Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals, even if the beasts here are fanciful. Not only the percussion but also the famed Chicago Symphony Orchestra brasses get good lines. It's a flashy, evocative work including orchestral-placement effects that come through reasonably well in the fine CSO Resound engineering work but seem designed for live performance above all (which is not a bad thing). For a slice of how electronic music has inspired Bates to create distinctive acoustic textures, sample the delicate "Nymphs," but be aware that it has been the slam-bang finale for which audiences have been waiting. It remains to be seen what kind of life composer-in-residence-driven works will have beyond their initial creation, but the Chicago Symphony, and even its venerable conductor, Riccardo Muti, seem to have a great deal of fun with this work, and fun is where it all starts.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Anthology of Fantastic Zoology|