JONATHAN LESHNOFF (b. 1973): Symphony No. 3 for Baritone and Orchestra, Piano Concerto.
Catalogue Number: 12W008
Label: Reference Recordings
Format: SACD hybrid
Description: Leshnoff's symphonies and concerti have previously impressed (06U011, 12S010, 06V064) with their neo-romantic grandeur, power, and ready accessibility while addressing profound issues, and these splendid works amply reinforce this impression. The Third Symphony (of 4 to date) is, like the others, inspired by powerful extramusical resonances: 2 and 4 explore Kabbalistic concepts, while the first takes its cues from musical multiculturalism. The Third deals with America's contribution to the First World War; commissioned by the Kansas Symphony, it draws on documents from the war, held in America's only WWI museum, in Kansas City, KS. A large-scale, three-movement symphonic structure, it sets extracts - in the finale only - from two servicemen's letters from the front lines, gentle, loving, eloquent and full of longing; one expressing "quiet amazement of where he is and how he got there", while the other "expresses his tender love for his wife and acceptance of fate" in the composer’s words. To counterbalance this reflective, nuanced movement and provide symphonic drama and energy, the first two movements generate enormous momentum out of conflict and struggle. The first movement begins mysteriously and ominously, building gradually and inexorably to a massive chordal climax, crowned by dueling antiphonal anvil-blows. The warlike central movement is intense and relentlessly propulsive; not so much a battle scene as a terrifyingly sped-up montage of war footage driven by incessant semiquaver motion like the demonic perpetuum mobile at the center of Shostakovich's 8th (and punctuated by the same swelling and stabbing brass accents). The brilliant Piano Concerto does everything a bravura neo-Romantic concerto is supposed to. A grand, memorable theme is presented at the outset, developed throughout the first movement in energetic, explosive dialogues between pianistic fireworks and orchestral power. The very Rachmaninovian slow movement is inspired by the 'third level of the soul, Neshama Hebrew for “breathing soul” ' from ancient Jewish mystical tradition, and is contemplative and richly textured. A humorous, exuberant scherzo that owes something to Prokofiev follows, introducing the kinetic, propulsive and ultimately triumphant finale, bringing the concerto full circle with a grand statement of the main theme. Texts included. Stephen Powell (baritone), Joyce Yand (piano), Kansas City Symphony; Michael Stern.