I knew Michael Daugherty's music from his 2007 piece Deus ex Machina for Piano & Orchestra (on a 2009 Naxos CD). I like to keep in touch with musical depictions of trains, and this piece really impressed me. I thought it was worthy to stand beside the Little Train movement of Villa-Lobos's Bachianas Brasileiras #2, as well as Arthur Honegger's Pacific 231. Daugherty paints vivid pictures and communicates exciting ideas of movement that are layered with additional insights into a surprising range of ideas from futurism to ghosts to nostalgia for a by-gone era.
The same dynamic takes place in this new disc of three works by Daugherty that were commissioned during his period as Composer-in-Residence with the Detroit Symphony. Fire and Blood (2003) is a full-blown violin concerto that begins with a depiction of Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry murals, as well as scenes from his life, and that of his remarkable wife Frida Kahlo. A highlight is the third movement "Assembly Line", where Daugherty says (in his revealing liner notes) the violin soloist "is like the worker, surrounded by a mechanical orchestra." This is a work that deserves to be taken up by other orchestras; perhaps the excellent soloist on this CD, Ida Kavafian, will take it on the road, or it will be picked up by one or more of the next generation of violinists.
The MotorCity Triptych (2000) is another fun piece by Daugherty which also has a more serious side. This is especially true of the third movement "Rosa Parks Boulevard", with its evocation of African-American preaching through the use of percussion and two trombones. Daugherty calls Raise the Roof (2003) "a grand acoustic construction". I'm sure every timpanist in the world is itching to play this piece. But only a few will have as impressive an orchestra to play in front of as timpanist Brian Jones has in the Detroit Symphony under Neeme Jarvi.
So buy the CD for the fun and fireworks, but stick around and listen three or four times, for some real and profound ideas.