MICHAEL GANDOLFI (b.1956): Imaginary Numbers, RICHARD PRIOR (b.19??): …of shadow and light…, JAMES OLIVERIO (b.1956): Dynasty - Double Timpani Concerto.
Catalogue Number: 04V063
Label: ASO Media
Description: Three splendid new works from Atlanta-based composers, bold, exciting, immensely approachable, crowd-pleasing and, of course, tonal, Atlanta not being a noted hotbed of avant-garde experimentation. Gandolfi's hugely enjoyable piece is inspired by the composer’s enjoyment of mathematical structures. A sinfonia concertante, it features four principals of the ASO. The first movement is named for Escher's print of birds and fish metamorphosing into each other, and takes the form of a propulsive overture in rapid motion in which the rhythmic accents of the constant rhythm shift in their pattern. Due misteriosi plays with symmetry in a bouncy scherzo that, probably intentionally, recalls Bartók's "Presentation of the Couples". The eloquent, songful slow movement, with the solo group well to the fore, refers to creation myths of pre-Columbian mesoamerica. The finale, Mandelbrot's Scherzo, is a kind of rondo in swirling post-minimalist patterns, as the title implies. The Prior is a large, dramatic tone poem in a rich vein of neo-romanticism- the same one that Howard Hanson mined in his 2nd Symphony. Ominous and looming from the outset, it ratchets up the tension throughout an increasingly agitated and stormy section. Around the work’s mid-point a kind of calm tries fitfully to take over, though threatening undercurrents remain, and soon the turbulence returns and leads the piece to an ambiguously triumphant conclusion. The idea of a concerto for two sets of five timpani played by virtuosi sounds like a mouth-watering prospect, and so it proves to be in Oliverio's exhilarating work. Each set of timpani is shadowed by a harp, used to underline the use of the drums as a melody instrument, and the timbral interchange between the unusual soloists and the orchestra is ingenious and unfailingly effective. The timpani introduce the "Impetuous" first movement, an infectiously rhythmic romp with a sense of cinematic bravado and colour. Then "Naivété", a melodic intermezzo in which the drums take up the melody and exchange it and its rippling accompaniment back and forth with the harps and the orchestra. A brief "Interlude" is a cadenza using the resources of the pedal drums, then the concerto's slow movement is an imposing cortège, "Ancestors Within". The lively, propulsive finale, full of syncopated rhythms, has the two timpanists sparring as though re-enacting Nielsen's 4th; the orchestra stands back in astonishment while they duet in a virtuoso cadenza, and then joins in to dance to the work’s emphatic conclusion. Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; Robert Spano.