Gerard Schwarz

Samuel Jones: Symphony No. 3; Tuba Concerto

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The Seattle Symphony under conductor Gerard Schwarz has carved out a distinct and important niche among American orchestras, programming regionalist works that are neither sentimentally crowd-pleasing nor carrying the requirement of a master's degree in music to understand. Among their discoveries is Samuel Jones, born in Mississippi and for many years associated with the Rice University music department. The Concerto for tuba and orchestra and Symphony No. 3 recorded here take off from the strain of orchestral music that has come down from Copland and are certainly designed to showcase the skills of a large orchestra. Both are uncommonly effective, and the orchestra and tuba soloist Christopher Olka never lose focus in music that has considerable technical difficulties. The tuba concerto was written in 2005, when the composer was 71; Schwarz has praised it effusively, and it's hard to argue with his evaluation. The work commemorates an aeronautical engineer at the Boeing corporation; its least successful movement may be the finale, which has a specific program dealing with wind tunnels that you'd be unlikely to even come close to by guessing. But the opening Andante con moto has a lovely deployment of the tuba, playing heavily ornamented low lines against more static structures in the strings. The Symphony No. 3, "Palo Duro Canyon," was commissioned by the Amarillo (Texas) Symphony in 1992. This work, too, is programmatic, evocative of the canyon named in the title and its history. Here the musical references are underlaid with various abstract structures, creating powerful combinations. The work is in one long movement with four sections roughly corresponding to the divisions of traditional symphonic form, and everything revolves around a trio of tonal centers symbolizing the earth, human existence, and the creative spirit of the universe. The symphony is immediately accessible yet reveals more of its structure on repeated hearings. Recommended for anyone with an interest in American orchestral music.

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