MICHAEL KUREK (b.1955): Symphony No. 2: Tales from the Realm of Faerie, Missa Brevis, Ave Maria. European Recording Orchestra, Robin Fountain; Vanderbilt Chorale, Tucker Biddlecombe.

Catalogue Number: 11Y035

Label: Navona Records

Reference: NV6458

Format: CD

Price: $14.98

Description: The bulk of this disc is given over to Kurek's big, bold, neo-romantic symphony, which weighs in at almost three-quarters of an hour. Unfortunately the composer feels the need to defend his choice to write lush, tonal music in traditional forms intended to evoke an emotional response and to be enjoyed; whoever said that his music is “completely conventional and without interest” - the jibe must have stung, as this is how he wryly describes his style - should mind their own business, as a superficial glance at these pages alone will demonstrate that this and the thorniest auditory barbed wire of the avant garde, and all points between, can happily co-exist. And Kurek is extremely good at what he does within his chosen genre; he says himself that it’s "…fine if my music is pictorial enough to evoke cinematic comparisons…" though he prefers to "…employ the classical craft of large-scale forms and tonal structures, counterpoint, and development over a much longer time than film music usually allows …". His models are drawn from all over the Romantic spectrum; you will readily find reminiscences of Brahms, Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and many others, though this is rather beside the point. The symphony bears the title "Tales from the Realm of Faerie" and is intended to evoke tales, myths, legends, fantasy and folklore from the listener's imagination. The work is traditionally laid out in four movements, beginning with a large Moderato cast in heroic mould, with its fanfares, passions, epic quests building to a battlefield climax to end the movement. The slow movement begins with a familiar mythical character in music by evoking the Swan of Tuonela; then the horizons open onto wide vistas and imposing mountain-ranges. Here one might be reminded of Vaughan Williams, Moeran, and maybe Rangström and Stenhammar; and not for the first or last time in this symphony, Howard Shore. The third movement's sweeping balletic rhythms recall Tchaikovsky, and seem to suggest a narrative of a ball at the castle interrupted by the intrusion of Chernabog - or is it Kashchey? - but the apparition is dismissed by the dawn, and all ends well. The finale returns to the heroic striving of the opening movement; armies ride to war, sorcery is plotted, the beloved awaits anxiously behind castle walls; and in a grand final peroration the world is restored to order amid triumphant fanfares and birdsong. It is impossible not to get caught up in musical storytelling this vivid! The lovely Missa brevis is a traditional setting of the Ordinary of the Mass in four-part harmony with organ accompaniment "for practical use by church choirs" or in choral concerts, its brevity and relative simplicity enhancing its functionality without compromising in any way its moving reverence and the spirit of "leading with beauty" in drawing the faithful to the Mass. Similarly, the Ave Maria, for women's voices and organ with the addition of harp, makes a gentle, solemnly reverent alternative to the various familiar settings.

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