The Vision of Francis Goelet
The American Symphony Orchestra, Leon Botstein, conductor
This anthology of orchestral works was conceived as a tribute to the late Francis Goelet, who was America's greatest musical philanthropist, especially in the commissioning of new works. His generous support led to the commissioning of these pieces, all of which, except for the Copland, are making their first appearance on CD.
Aaron Copland's last major orchestral work, Inscape (1967), completes a line of development that began essentially with the Piano Variations (1930) and continued intermittently over the composer's creative lifespan. These are the chromatic works, the lean or even severe antidotes to his more popular style. Over the course of this development one finds Copland taking an increasing interest in the techniques associated with the twelve-tone method.
Roger Sessions's Symphony No. 8 (1968) is in two compact movements that are joined together without a pause between them. The tragic tone of the first movement, solemn and dirge-like, gives way to virile exuberance in the faster tempo of the second movement. Throughout, the idiom is richly chromatic; musical space is articulated at its limits by tuba and contrabassoon below and piccolo and glockenspiel above. The music surges forward despite a complex network of counterpoint.
George Perle's Transcendental Modulations (1993) presents a succession of character images, contrasting in mood and including even a trace of jazz in the bass pizzicatos toward the end. Musical ideas (such as the bubbling-up of clarinets at the opening) reappear at different pitch levels (such as down a sixth in bassoons at bar twenty-four) to effect changes in tonality (as well as timbre). Twelve distinct tempos are carefully linked by common pulses.
The unusual title of Bernard Rands's "...where the murmurs die..." (1993), is a fragment from an early poem of Samuel Beckett, a writer to whom the composer has more than once turned for inspiration. An Italianate lyricism and clarity pervade this delicately scored work showing, perhaps, the influence of Rands's early studies with Luigi Dallapiccola and Luciano Berio. Contributing to the distinctive coloration is the elaborate use of different types of mutes in the brass instruments. Correspondingly, the strings are often instructed to place their bows close to the bridge, creating the glassy timbral effect known as sul ponticello.