Baltimore-born Christopher Rouse was trained at Oberlin and Cornell. He studied with Karel Husa and George Crumb and held faculty positions at U. of Michigan and Eastman School of Music before moving to Juilliard in 1997. Juilliard's gain. Everyone else's loss. His most prominent composition student is Michael Torke. Stylistically, Rouse is considered a neoromantic composer, but some are more musically obtuse. In the present RCA album, Marin Alsop leads the Colorado Symphony Orchestra in Rouse's Trombone Concerto, Gorgon, and Iscariot. The works were recorded in 1995 using 20-bit technology and the sound is astonishing!
The album begins with the Trombone Concerto. Right from the start, I must tell you that I thought this was one I was going to have to listen to for purposes of the review, but surprise, surprise: I actually enjoyed it immensely. This is wonderful music, one of the most fantastic modern works I have heard. The 1st movement begins rather darkly and sparsely. My first impression was "Oh, God, is this even music?" The trombone makes slow, low-pitched, almost groaning sounds similar to... well, you can just guess. But then it became increasingly musical in a more conventional sense, and I realized that I was actually beginning to enjoy it. A lot. It... became... beautiful! The 2nd movement is stunning, sort of perpetual motion. It is often loud. The rhythms are fascinating. The trombonist must have required resuscitation by the end of the movement! Really, really enjoyable. I'll be listening again and again to this. I couldn't help but think of Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind. Remember, the trombone note coming from the saucer after it landed on Devil's Mountain? Well, multiply that times a hundred, and add percussion, additional brass, and strings. All I can say is WOW! What impactful music. You have to hear it to believe it. Amazing! The 3rd movement returns to a slow tempo with woodwinds playing soulfully. But the music crescendos and gathers increasing intensity before coming to a quiet and sublime section that is exceptionally peaceful. Soft timpani lead into a gentle conclusion.
Gorgon is a three-movement piece that begins in raucous fashion with wonderful timpani passages. I love that instrument, and in the 1st movement it plays an important role. Rouse described Gorgon as "... a work of exorcistic rage, an attempt in music to heal by facing that which seems unfaceable." I think exorcistic rage is an apt phrase for this music. Chords are repeated 10 or 15 times in rapid succession. It's riotous and stunning - almost shocking. The 3rd movement, Medussa, is so in-your-face that it is difficult to describe. The booklet says that Gorgon is an attempt to take Rouse's attraction towards fast, loud and wild music to its terrifying ultimate. That about says it all. I will play this often.
Iscariot is the antithesis of Gorgon, with its slow, mournful yet sublime nature. It is a pleasure, and a needed one after listening to Gorgon's terror. But don't think that Rouse has robbed you of terror completely. There are many such moments, but their intensity, though impressive, don't equal those of Gorgon. I found Iscariot less compelling than Gorgon but still
Rouse's music is astonishing for its relentlessly energized drive and dynamics. No dozing off here. I found myself eagerly anticipating the next new flurry of rhythms and percussion effects. The sound is splendid with a full soundstage and center fill. The Colorado Symphony should be recognized as on the brink of world class. They play this difficult music with aplomb. Marin Alsop, whose other recordings have not impressed me that much, needs not to prove herself further. She is a major talent. This is one of the most exciting and thoroughly enjoyable albums of modern music I have ever listened to. ABSOLUTElY HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION!!!!!!!!!!