Corigliano: Conjurer, Vocalise / Glennie, Plitmann, Miller, Albany Symphony

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CORIGLIANO Conjurer 1. Vocalise 2 • David Alan Miller, cond; 1 Evelyn Glennie (perc); 2 Hila Plitmann (sop); 2 Mark Baechle (electronics); Albany SO •...

CORIGLIANO Conjurer 1. Vocalise 2 David Alan Miller, cond; 1 Evelyn Glennie (perc); 2 Hila Plitmann (sop); 2 Mark Baechle (electronics); Albany SO NAXOS 8.559757 (57:43)

When he was first asked to write a percussion concerto, John Corigliano was reluctant. Percussion concertos he had heard too often sounded “like orchestral pieces with an extra-large percussion section,” with little or none of the interaction between soloists and ensemble which is the hallmark of the form. The problem was the very nature of many percussion instruments, which produce no discernable pitch on which to build melodic material. One answer has been to limit the solo line to pitched percussion, and some composers have quite successfully created concertos for marimba or xylophone. In Conjurer (2007), Corigliano has done that one better, creating a Concerto that uses a large range of percussion instruments, pitched and unpitched, in which the melodic material is introduced— conjured as the title suggests—by the percussionist and then developed by the orchestra and soloist, much as would happen in any solo concerto.

The trick is the clever use of sequences in which pitches are implied for the unpitched instruments. It would be merely clever, though, if Corigliano had not succeeded in his real goal. This he has done brilliantly, not only creating exciting soundscapes of a dizzying variety of percussion instruments, but also using those sounds to create real music with emotional and dramatic depth. In this, he is fortunate to have the services of that most musical of percussion virtuosos, Evelyn Glennie, who plays all of the many instruments with great subtlety, or dazzling élan, as the situation requires.

The work is divided into three movements, each preceded by an extended cadenza in which the thematic material is revealed and presented to the string orchestra. Each movement showcases a particular percussion family: wood, metal, and skin. The character of the melodic material created by each family is part of the genius of the work. I will not spoil the fun of the discovery, but I will state that the movement in which tenderness and mystery predominate does not come from the family one might instinctively expect. Further delight arises when the composer uses his strings to create percussive effects to accompany the melodic lines of the percussion instruments. I cannot but imagine that we will be hearing this work a lot, as every percussionist with the chops will want a shot at this work. It’s a tour de force for the soloist, and a musical work of real merit.

The accompanying work, which dates from eight years earlier, finds Corigliano experimenting with a different sort of sonority—that of the human voice—and with the use of electronics to enhance and augment it. Commissioned by Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic, the wordless Vocalise begins with a soprano voice—the pure and very lovely voice of Hila Plitmann—with a few instrumentalists in the acoustic realm. Corigliano then gradually begins to amplify it, as electronic effects add to the accompaniment, eventually enlarging the voice into a Wizard of Oz-like presence dominating an augmented orchestra climax of Straussian dimensions. The work ends as quietly as it begins, but with the voice subsumed into the echoes of the electronic processing, which, as Corigliano describes it, “gently surround the audience.”

Mark Baechle is credited with producing and performing the electronics, and the sound design—an essential part of this work—is credited to Teese Gohl and Angie Teo. (Such things are very much the creative work of humans, not “soulless machines.”) David Alan Miller and the Albany Symphony Orchestra, usually heard on the Albany label, provide impressive accompaniment to the superb soloists. The recording of Conjurer was made in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, with the exemplary results we have come to expect from that venue. Vocalise was recorded at the Experimental Media Performing Arts Center—who knew there was such a thing outside of Paris?—of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, also in Troy and with an equally fine outcome. Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary composition or exemplary percussion playing will want to hear this release.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames

Product Description:

  • Release Date: September 24, 2013

  • UPC: 636943975725

  • Catalog Number: 8559757

  • Label: Naxos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: John Corigliano

  • Conductor: David Alan Miller

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Albany Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Evelyn Glennie, Hila Plitmann, Mark Baechle