- Symphony No. 5
- Black Sounds, for 17 wind instruments (music for the ballet The Act)
- Transcendental Variations, for Orchestra
By rejecting the pursuit of originality as a pointless endeavor, and by drawing on the masters for inspiration, George Rochberg has become a controversial figure -- admired by conservatives, distrusted by the avant-garde, and possibly misunderstood by all. His music defies categorization, even under the rubric of post-modernism, so each work must be judged without preconceptions. His "Symphony No. 5" openly partakes of Schoenberg's expressionism and Mahler's elegiac lyricism, yet these are internalized and adapted so well that they merge into a coherent and fairly successful whole. "Black Sounds" was composed in homage to Varèse, but its blatant imitation of that composer is troubling. The fanfares, clusters, and repeated pitch cells are too close to those in "Arcana" and "Intégrales," and Rochberg even matches Varèse's timbres to the point where his effort seems slavish. The "Transcendental Variations," adapted from the "String Quartet No. 3," is the most overtly tonal work on this disc, and its rich harmonies and shimmering string sounds leave a strong impression. Yet Rochberg's passionate embrace of the past is a little unsettling here, if only because his self-consciousness is detectable in every mannered trill and turn. The Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Christopher Lyndon-Gee, is fine in these performances, and the recorded sound is balanced and clear.