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Rochberg: Symphony No. 5; Black Sounds; Transcendental Variations.

Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Lyndon-Gee (Naxos 8.559115)

I first became acquainted with the music of the American composer George Rochberg (b. 1918) about the time I became acquainted with this magazine, about 25 years or so ago, when I picked up a Nonesuch recording of his Third String Quartet, and I wrote a review of that LP that was published in these pages (I had thought about looking up a copy of that review so that I could quote from it, but the really old copies of the magazine are buried in some drawer somewhere, and even if I could work up enough energy on this beautiful late-summer Saturday morning to look for it, I would probably be paying for it the rest of the day with respiratory distress brought on by all the dust and mold I would no doubt stir up). That work, in fact, makes a kind of reprise on this new Naxos CD, as the Transcendental Variations for string orchestra are based upon the slow movement of the Third Quartet.

This CD opens with the world premiere recording of the Symphony No. 5. According to the liner notes, Sir Georg Solti offered the original commission for this work, which was first played during the 1986 season by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Seventeen years later, it is has finally been recorded--far from Chicago, as it turns out--as once again Naxos has boldly brought forth another interesting recording of music not in the mainstream at a low price, just as Nonesuch used to do. Three cheers for Naxos!

And let's have some cheers for Rochberg, too, who has written some wonderful music that deserves much wider exposure. His Fifth Symphony is an expressive work, bold and bracing in sound, but always quite listenable and communicative. Those who fear contemporary music should give this piece a listen. No, it's not Vivaldi or Mozart, but it's not Schoenberg, either.

Black Sounds is a more challenging piece, which might cause some of our more musically conservative readers to swoon, but I can't imagine that anyone would find it unlistenable. It is dark music (the title should be a bit of a hint); indeed, it was once set as the backdrop for a modern dance that portrayed the act of murder.

Thankfully, though, Naxos does not leave us in despair, as they have chosen the Transcendental Variations to close the program, music of great peacefulness and deep beauty. It may reminds some of Mahler, and by that comparison Rochberg would not be displeased, as the music of Mahler was in fact the original inspiration for Rochberg's Third Quartet. This is music, takes deep breaths, then sighs, looking toward heaven while being rooted in the earth. It is music that transcends, that reaches beyond.

Yes, cheers for Naxos, cheers for Rochberg, and cheers too for the musicians. Christopher Lyndon-Gee and the Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra are not widely known, but they have done themselves proud here; we thank them for their hard work. As I type this sentence I am listening to the Transcendental Variations, and it is hard to concentrate on what I am writing, as the music is pulling me in. It is a beautiful day, and I have no desire to breathe in any old, old dust. I shall simply breathe in this fresh air deeply, then sigh ...
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Title Annotation:Sympphony No. 5; Black Sounds; Transcendental Variations
Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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