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Posted October 4, 2010
I was fortunate enough to be present at the world premiere of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's Symphony No. 4 'The Gardens', which was commissioned by two Michigan State University alumni. Before that evening, Zwilich's music was completely foreign to me. That night, she presented a remarkable work for choir, children's choir and orchestra, offering a tribute to MSU's gardens. This disc, Zwilich's 2nd disc of works recorded for the Naxos label, covers nearly all of her works for piano and orchestra. The title piece, 'Millennium Fantasy', is based on a folk melody her grandmother used to sing to her, and was commissioned by Jeffrey Biegel, the pianist featured on this CD. A slow crescendo builds intensity in the strings, until percussion and piano come in, sometimes quietly, other times frenetically. The work has a very American sound to it - I hear influences of Native American songs, Copland, and John Adams. 'Images' is a work for two pianos and orchestra, and was inspired by paintings from the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Works represented included paintings by Alice Bailly (whose self-portrait appears on the CD's cover), Elaine de Kooning (wife of Willem de Kooning), and Suzanne Valadon (former lover of Erik Satie). These are more expressionist pieces, darker and yet still colorful. The final piece, 'Peanuts Gallery', has themes for various characters in the Peanuts comic strip. The creator of Peanuts, Charles Schulz, was a fan of Zwilich's music, and even had his characters mention her in two different strips. The works are a fitting tribute to Schulz's cartoon. This disc is exciting to listen to, and Zwilich certainly has her own voice. The only thing I believe would have made this CD any better would have been to include her Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1986), which would have filled the disc out nicely, and would have made this recording the only one to include all of her piano and orchestra works. Nonetheless, this is a great recording. Highly recommended!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.