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Posted October 1, 2010
Metropolis Symphony is in 5 movements and was inspired by the 50th anniversary of Superman's appearance in comics. Each movement can be played separately and stand on its own. As the composer states:"The Symphony is a rigorously structured, non-programmatic work, expressing the energies, ambiguities, paradoxes, and wit of American popular culture." Different characters, places and events, in the saga of Superman, are the subjects of the movements. Different moods are expressed in the Symphony, from serious to whimsical, and from tranquil to chaotic. The music is basically abstract, with few, if any, real melodic passages. It is modern sounding, but easy on the ear. There is much use of percussion instruments, and other sound effects, such as whistles, siren and fire bells. The 5th movement of this Symphony reminds one of the 5th movement of Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, because they both relate to the death of the main character, and contain the same Latin death chant. Deus ex Machina for Piano and Orchestra, is a 21st Century piano concerto. It is in 3 movements, which can also be played separately and stand on their own. I must admit, that I am a train buff, and enjoyed this work very much. The 1st movement portrays the speed and vibrations of fast moving trains. The solemn 2nd movement depicts the funeral train for Abraham Lincoln. and the mood of mourning is set, with the playing of Taps, and the development of themes from Taps, in the music. The 3rd movement portrays the final days of steam power on the railroads, by a musical description of photographs by well known trains photographer, the late O. Winston Link. I am familiar with Link's photos, and this music gives life to them.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 1, 2010
All I knew of the Metropolis Symphony by Michael Daugherty was that it was written in 1988 as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Superman's first appearance in comics. So I began with Daugherty's liner notes: "The symphony is a rigorously structured non-programmatic work, expressing the energies, ambiguities, paradoxes, and wit of American popular culture." To test this I put down the notes, plugged in to my iPod, and went for a 42-1/2 minute walk in the rain. My findings from the first listen? Energies? Check! Ambiguities, paradoxes? Check! Wit? Check!
Maybe, though, Daugherty saved some of the wit for the sentence I quoted above, for as mythic as this music is, it's still programmatic. The second movement, for example, is a representation of the trickster MXYZPTLK (the second in music history if you count Bruckner's 7th Symphony, which I don't). The imp's multi-dimensional nature is mirrored in the aural spaces Daugherty creates. That's a much more sophisticated programme than Carl Stalling's Looney Tunes scores (or Beethoven's Scene at the Brook), but it's a programme nevertheless.
A non-musical aside: Daugherty assumes that the Superman myth is particularly American, though all Canadians know that Superman was first drawn by Torontonian Joe Shuster. Clark Kent's first job was with the Metropolis Daily Star, whose name was taken from the Toronto Daily Star where Shuster worked, and the Metropolis skyline was modelled after that of Toronto. Perhaps Superman is American, but Clark Kent is Canadian. Obvious, eh?
The other work on the disc, Deus ex Machina, is shorter but more profound, and more in line with Fire & Blood, which I reviewed last month. Both works make reference to the visual arts: Fire & Blood to Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo, and Deus ex Machina to the Italian Futurists. Daugherty's three train pictures in the form of a piano concerto are in the honourable tradition of Honegger and Villa-Lobos, and will probably bear more repetition than the Symphony. The Naxos disc shows off the splendid Nashville Symphony, who shone in their 2005 recording of the Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras (also for Naxos), music as rhythmically complex, if not always as boisterous, as this. The orchestral and solo playing (by pianist Terrence Wilson) is excellent. Conductor Giancarlo Guerrero seems to have everything in hand, and Naxos has engineered and packaged another winner here.
Posted October 1, 2010
I continue to be blown away by Iowa-born composer Michael Daugherty. His music tells a uniquely American story and that appeals to me very much. Most recently it was a recording of his Fire and Blood, a muscular violin concerto inspired by Diego Rivera that grabbed my attention. This time it's the antic and frantic Metropolis Symphony, an orchestral extravaganza inspired by the 1938 debut of Superman in comic books. I love the very notion of a giant orchestral work inspired by American pop culture and can almost see the sneers of Euro-snobs and the pasty-faced, self-appointed American guardians of modern music.
Metropolis Symphony is in five movements, each one inspired by a Superman character or theme. Lex, the opening movement, is a deliriously diabolic romp for solo violin and percussion-laced orchestra that captures the manic evil of arch-baddie Lex Luthor. Here's the smack-mouth drive that made Fire and Blood so thrilling. The solo part is played with guts by the Nashville Symphony's Mary Kathryn Van Osdale. More subdued but equally evocative is Krypton, an eerie tone poem that opens with sirens, gongs and disturbing string glissandi. There's more terrifying solo fiddling, snippets of what sounds like "Silent Night" and an apocalyptic finale that gives the Rite of Spring a run for its money. MXYZPTLK, the nasty imp from the fifth dimension, is a mercurial scherzo-like third movement that showcases the orchestra's flute section. The fourth movement entitled Oh Lois! evokes the comic's heroine alongside Clark Kent. Here's another wildfire rave-up with a tempo marked "faster than a speeding bullet" that plays out as a delicious example of orchestral slapstick. The closing Red Cape Tango is a moving elegy that evolves into a tango-inspired dance of death with Daugherty quoting the Dies irae.
Daugherty's Deus ex Machina for piano and orchestra, which rounds out the recording, is the composer's take on the world of trains with each movement focusing on a train or railway. The first movement Fast Forward conjures up images of the avant-garde and displays the rhythmic firestorm that is found in many of Daugherty's works. The second movement Train of Tears refers to the funeral train that carried Abraham Lincoln's body through seven states. Here's Daugherty in an elegiac mood that will remind some of Copland but there is nothing derivative here, Daugherty's superb orchestration and emotional depth rise to the top throughout. The finale, Night Stream, is Daugherty's tribute to the coal-burning locomotives of the Norfolk and Western lines and here's more of the hard-driving, blues-inflected virtuosity that make his music so thrilling.
The knuckle-busting piano part is played with breath-taking skill by Terence Wilson and the Nashville Symphony, conducted by its new music director Giancarlo Guerrero,
proves once again that it is one of America's finest orchestras. Superbly engineered and nicely packaged this is another gem from one of our finest composers.
Posted October 1, 2010
This disc is fantastic: 2 energetic pieces by a gifted American composer, performed by an excellent orchestra under an exciting new conductor. Sonically, the performances are beautifully captured, top to bottom, and the recording sounds great on 5-channel surround. The nuances the composer points out in the liner notes are easily heard in the mix, and the Nashville Symphony's sound is balanced and full. Just a beautiful recording, and an excellent addition to a growing and impressive catalog from Music City's excellent orchestra.
As for the pieces themselves, the Metropolis Symphony, though not program music, certainly evokes images of the mythology to which it pays tribute: sounds of a busy city, soaring melodic lines, bright horns, and robust orchestration. It is beautifully and ably written.
The piano concerto, Deus Ex Machina, is another brilliantly rendered composition--in response, in the composer's words, to the world of trains. The highlight here is part II: The Train of Tears, "music for a slow-moving funeral train"--specifically, the train that carried Abraham Lincoln's body from Washington, DC, to its final resting place in Illinois. The movement is dark, brooding, lonely, and fatalistic. Terrence Wilson (piano) plays very well throughout the whole emotional and stylistic range of the concerto.