CHRISTOPHER ROUSE (b.1949): Symphony No. 3, Symphony No. 4, Odna Zhizn, Prospero’s Rooms.
Catalogue Number: 05R008
Description: Odna Zhizn - 'A Life' is a compelling biographical sketch of a person of Russian ancestry whose identity is not revealed but whose life appears to have been marked by dramatic incident and adversity, as well as great strength of character, to judge by the music. The composer admits to having encoded names and musical cryptograms into the score, but does not reveal the key to his cypher. The result is entirely satisfying without the necessity of knowing the details; a substantial tone poem, broadly tonal, setting up an icy, forbidding and mysterious landscape against which a diversity of events, from the unexpected and shocking to the frantically, thrillingly active seem to be played out. Political upheavals? Personal tragedy? Eleventh-hour flight from occupying forces? Is there a veiled jazz element trying to break through? Was that a ship's foghorn? We don't know, but with a musical narrative this vivid, we can easily imagine. The Third is an interesting construct; it takes as its model Prokofiev's tough and aggressive Second Symphony, itself influenced by Beethoven's final piano sonata. This is homage, rather than pastiche; the music sounds more like Rouse than Prokofiev, though the blend of tonality and strident dissonance is roughly equivalent and there are many gestures that sound like something the Russian master might have done harmonically, rhythmically or timbrally, the opening allegro shares his penchant for tireless mechanistic energy, and in the second theme-and-variations movement there are some fleeting references to several works for us to have fun chasing down. The composer admits that his Fourth Symphony has some programmatic intent, and like many of his works it does suggest a strong narrative arc, but as in Odna Zhizn, he's keeping the details to himself. The symphony is in two linked movements, very tonal, though highly chromatic, with a kind of Sibelian economy and directness. The first movement is energetic, with irresistible momentum. At the end, the music abruptly takes a darker turn and subsides into the second movement, an extended somber lament with a sense of looming tragedy limned in the darkest possible tone-colors and unresolved at the work's desolate and enigmatic close. Prospero's Rooms is an evocative and atmospheric overture to an unwritten (and sadly, unlikely to be written) opera on Poe's “The Masque of the Red Death”. From sinister beginnings the piece progresses through a series of lively, contrasting episodes depicting the castle, punctuated by the unnerving chiming of the clock from the story, and ends with Poe's ghastly death scene, illustrated by music worthy of the best horror film score. New York Philharmonic; Alan Gilbert.