Various companies have apparently tried to champion the cause of Robert Kurka (1921-1957), and his second symphony has been recorded before. To be honest the music comes across to me as nothing special, even if it is well crafted and orchestrated. There are few entirely original touches, but more importantly Kurka's themes often come across as attempting to be striking by verging on the banal and foursquare. The style is an appealing brand of tonal neo-classicism, often busy and urbane, and often delectably spiced though stingy with colors; Prokofiev, Hindemith and Stravinsky seem all to have made their mark, though often not in the same work - perhaps it can be counted as one of Kurka's strengths that the works on this disc are actually somewhat different in tone and style yet discernibly by the same composer.
The "symphonic epilogue" Julius Caesar that opens the disc is an eight minute piece that is brilliantly scored and rather eventful; unfortunately none of the events or effects ever catch the ear, and it quickly becomes one of those pieces you are impatient to see end, despite its relative brevity. The Music for Orchestra is more interesting; dramatic and muscular with a certain sternness to it and some interesting harmonic touches. The Serenade for Small Orchestra is neo-classical and vivacious but tries too desperately to be witty and ends up being instead somewhat tiresome on the ear. The slow movement is rather impressive, however. The main offering is obviously the second symphony, a cheeky, metropolitan work, elegantly neo-classical, rhythmically complex and with plenty of energy, generally positive in outlook and featuring a beautiful slow movement. It is a fine work, but quite far away from being a masterpiece (as some have claimed); the thematic material is rather weak, and although he goes through the motions, Kurka never really manages to make it sound as if the music is going anywhere.
At least the performances are exemplary, I think (I haven't heard Daivd Alan Miller on Albany). The Grant Park Orhcestra plays with spirit and (plenty of energy), and Kalmar takes care to emphasize Kurka's sharp rhythms, sinewy scoring (Kurka tends to be sparse with the colors), while making the lyrical parts sing. On the other hand, I am less sure who is to blame for what I find to be an overall rather static quality of symphony (that is, it is energetic enough, but seems to be spinning in one place). It is, overall, an interesting release I suppose, but I am hard pressed to make any extravagant claims for it.