Michael Daugherty: Mount Rushmoreby Carl St. Clair
The pieces on this Naxos release, issued in 2013, were all quite new works by American composer Michael Daugherty at the time; all were world premieres, and all marked new departures from his usual style of somewhat Stravinsky-ized American pop culture motifs. Time will tell whether they attain the familiarity of such works as "Dead Elvis" or the "Metropolis Symphony," but all stretch in new directions, and none feels tired. "Mount Rushmore" (2010) is a grander, less bracing work than one is accustomed to from Daugherty; it is a choral-orchestral depiction of the four U.S. presidents on the face of the titular mountain, with relevant musical material for each woven into a larger structure. The texts are various and unexpected: Washington is given the not-quite-appropriate New England hymn "Chester," while the Jefferson music is set to fragments of text, including an Italian-language song sent to Jefferson by Maria Conway in Paris. Theodore Roosevelt's words come from one of his stirring speeches, and Lincoln's words are from the Gettysburg Address. "Radio City" is, as its subtitle indicates, a musical survey of conductor Arturo Toscanini's musical life in America; unlike most of Daugherty's works it presupposes a good deal of musical knowledge. Perhaps the highlight of the set of "The Gospel According to Sister Aimee, for organ, brass, and percussion." "Sister Aimee" is evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, and this work is an ingenious combination of music from two sources: the tradition of oversized Romantic organ music with ensemble and American popular hymnody; as in the best of Daugherty's works the combination is seamless. There is nothing to fault in the performances by the Pacific Symphony under Carl St. Clair, which have the right balance between brashness and control, and the big solo organ part in "The Gospel According to Sister Aimee," whose idiomatic writing is impressive in itself, gets the weighty treatment it needs from organist Paul Jacobs. Recommended, especially for performers looking for a really unusual and fresh work for brasses and organ.
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- Naxos American
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Sometimes, the clever titles of Michael Daugherty prove to be more fascinating than the compositions they accompany. However, in this particular instance the composer scores a knockout. To be sure the ubiquitous thematic interpolation, requisite parody and burlesque, all features of Daugherty’s eclectic style are apparent throughout Mount Rushmore, but they are used judiciously allowing the considerable merits of the music to emerge unscathed. The result is a 32 minute journey which is simultaneously intriguing and strangely affective. Radio City, a tribute to Toscanini, is held firmly aloft by its sincere lyricism, rhythmic vitality and broad timbrel palette. No doubt, the Maestro would be scowling in affirmation. The Gospel According to Sister Almee is in essence, a 20 minute organ concerto infused with all sorts of nifty coloristic and dynamic touches. It’s sort of like the Poulenc Organ Concerto as reimagined by ELP seasoned with a dash of Ivesian irony. Performance and sonics are just fine. The extensive performing forces are realistically arrayed with the organ pickup being particularly visceral. Detailed, well written liner notes by Michael Daugherty complete the package. Suggested track samples: #4 Abraham Lincoln; #7 On the Air and #8 Knock Out the Devil. A valuable addition to the burgeoning catalog of American Music as documented by Naxos.
This new Naxos release features three of Michael Daugherty's most recent compositions for orchestra -- as well the orchestra that commissioned them. And it's a winning combination. All three works crackle with energy and excitement. The Carl St. Clair and the Pacific Symphony know these compositions well. These are committed and self-assured performances. Mount Rushmore is an ambitious undertaking, presenting musical portraits of the four presidents carved into the mountain. Daugherty's modern, populist style makes the composition mass appeal/ Any of these movements would be perfect for a patriotic orchestral program. Radio City: Symphonic Fantasy on Artuoo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra is a three-movement suite that captures the vintage lushness of a Toscanini recording. Without resorting to pastiche, Daugherty conjures up sound and emotion of the golden age of symphony radio broadcasts. The Gospel According to Sister Aimee for Organ, Brass and Percussion uses source material of the period -- traditional American hymns and gospel songs -- to paint a portrait of one of the first radio evangelists. Daugherty transforms his material effectively. As the work progresses, the simplicity of the music loses its way, and becomes wildly distorted. Three distinctively American works, by an American composer with a distinctive voice, performed by an American ensemble. Not to purchase this would be, well, almost unpatriotic.
Americana Daugherty style! One of Michael Daugherty's trademarks as a composer is his understandable fascination with American culture. Perhaps no composer since Copland has used the influence of American traditions or culture in their music; or at least how they view it. Daugherty's perspective is frequently a bit more "amused" or tongue-in-cheek than the overtly patriotic stance of Copland. It is clear that even in some of Daugherty's more outrageous peeks at Americana, such as the opera "Jackie O" or the "Metropolis Symphony", his view is admiration and pride but with just the occasional wink. Having said that, this new collection of Americana inspired works represents everything from the fairly "devout" to the fascination with the truly unusual; and it is a most impressive trio of works. "Mount Rushmore" for chorus and orchestra takes its cure from the iconic four president's faces carved into the Black Hills by Gutzon Borglum. Each movement uses a blend of music endemic to the time of the president's term and/or some of their words and thoughts. One of the more interesting movements, in fact, is the superimposition of the hymn "Rock of Ages" over some words about the grandeur of nature delivered by Theodore Roosevelt at the Grand Canyon. (Borglum chose the faces he wanted to commemorate because of their contributions to the union and to expanding America. Over the years, various historians debate whether or not TR was one of our greatest leaders; Washington and Lincoln remain unquestioned) The net effect of this piece is simply wonderful! This makes an inspiring, grand and only somewhat quirky musical portrait of this monument and the four men, themselves. The 'symphonic fantasy' "Radio City" in honor of Toscanini and the NBC Symphony is a very fun, majestic and somewhat reminiscent look at the Italian conductor who used the power of telecommunication to bring classical music to the masses during a time of great global unrest. Interesting "Radio City..." was co-commissioned by the Pacific Symphony and the Italian conductor Enzo Restagno on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. The three movements are fantasy depictions of Toscanini's arrival in America with shades of Verdi in the sonic background, his sense of wonder and power of New York and his new role in it, but missing his beloved war-torn Italy and, finally, a sonic fancy "on the air" envisioning both the maestro's mercurial temper and his command of the air waves. This music is Daugherty at his best blend of tribute and imagination. Appropriately, this collection closes with the "wildest" work herein: "The Gospel According to Sister Aimee" in reference to the Depression-era Pentecostal preacher Aimee Semple McPherson. Daugherty cleverly captures the frenzy of the times in southern California during Prohibition as he takes us through her wild, guilt inducing preaching ("Knock Out the Devil") to the bizarre true escapade wherein Semple allegedly drowned and then 'miraculously' re-emerges in Mexico to her self-redeeming efforts selling war bonds, saving her soul and restoring America's view of her as one their most beloved, if not outrageous, evangelists. (Aimee Semple and her way larger than life persona by all accounts begat figures such as Marjo Gortner, Jim Baker and the Sinclair Lewis novel "Elmer Gantry") I love Michael Daugherty's music for its bold, fresh, unique and occasionally bizarre sound but also for the fact that most of his works do also lend themselves to a mini history lesson; almost a snapshot of the very cultural snippets that the composer such clearly loves but finds bizarrely intriguing. If you are a Daugherty fan, as I am, this new recording is a must. Carl St. Clair and the Pacific Symphony are a treasure and always provide wonderful, dedicated performances. If you have never even heard any Michael Daugherty; this is a perfect place to start.