The music of Michigan-based composer Michael Daugherty has been gaining attention beyond the U.S., and this release in the Naxos label's American Classics series has accelerated the process. Its British chart success may be due to the presence of Dame Evelyn Glennie in the 2014 percussion concerto Dreamachine; Glennie is not quite the presence on recordings that she was in her RCA heyday, but manifestly from the evidence here she has not lost a step at all. Daugherty, not typically known as a composer of virtuoso music hitherto, writes splendid parts for all three soloists in these concertos, but Glennie's is breathtaking. Sample the large dynamic range of its third movement, Electric Eel, inspired by a German painting reproduced in the graphics; the number of percussionists who could have kept control over the movement is not large. But there's more to this album than Glennie. Daugherty has been expanding his characteristic "Stravinsky plus pop culture" musical language, and although all the music here is typically programmatic, you might not guess that he was the composer. The opening flute concerto, Trail of Tears, applies cinematic techniques to that tragic event with unexpected and convincing results, all the while merging those with virtuoso flute writing. And the evocative tuba concerto Reflections on the Mississippi is a much-needed expansion of the concerto literature for that instrument. With fine engineering from a pair of spaces in the Troy, New York area backing capable performances from the Albany Symphony under David Alan Miller, this is an unusually strong Daugherty release.
Michael Daugherty: Dreamachine; Trail of Tears; Reflections on the Mississippi Review
by James Manheim