In its continuing exploration of American music and lesser-known U.S. orchestras, the budget label Naxos has given us one of its most provocative and innovative recordings to date. Michael Daugherty, the man behind the "Superman"-inspired "Metropolis Symphony", gives us two innovative works, "Philadelphia Stories" and the futuristic "UFO", a concerto for percussion and orchestra.
"Philadelphia Stories" is the composer's three-movement tone painting of the City of Brotherly Love, focusing in on aspects of street life ("Sundown On South Street"), the terror of Edgar Allan Poe ("The Tell-Tale Heart"), and the legacy of Leopold Stokowski ("Bells For Stokowski"). In this last movement, Daugherty imagines all the bells tolling in Philadelphia as the often-controversial conductor who put the Philadelphia Orchestra on the world map makes a visit to the Liberty Bell.
"UFO" shows off the impressive abilities of Scottish-born percussion maestra Evelyn Glennie in this concerto inspired, of course, by sightings of alien spacecraft in the night skies of Earth that have been reported since the Roswell incident of 1947. The piece is hugely reminiscent in sound and size of John Williams' score for Spielberg's 1977 sci-fi masterpiece CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, a trait that may or may not be intentional, but a trait that works quite well. Glennie's percussion abilities are second-to-none here.
Both works are bought together by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra under the inspired leadership of music director Marin Alsop, one of a handful of female conductors to lead an orchestra in major recordings. The Naxos sound technicians give her, Glennie, and the Colorado Symphony a first-rate sound on a relatively meager budget, resulting in an incredibly fascinating recording that is quite simply one of the best in 2004 insofar as classical music goes. Highly recommended!