Christopher Rouse is a modern, living American composer with a very impressive Curriculum Vita and about 50 compositions to his credit. Born in Baltimore, MD, his music education includes a bachelor degree from Oberlin and graduate degrees from Cornell where he studied with Karel Husa. He also studied privately with George Crumb. He has held faculty positions at U. of Michigan, Eastman, and since 1997 at Juilliard. His most prominent composition student is Michael Torke. Stylistically, Rouse is considered a neoromantic composer. With regard to the present album, David Zinman leads the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in Rubbra’s Symphony No. 1 and Phantasmata.
Symphony 1 begins eerily with high violins that are subsequently joined by a tutti explosion. The 1st and only movement is largely comprised of this rather dark and frequently ominous music which at times increases in interest, texture, and dynamic volume. Still, it reminds you of the score to a fright film. To be fair, however, the music is of MUCH higher quality than most of those films. There is plenty of percussion bombast to work out your audio systems and prized subwoofers. At times, the music becomes conventionally and beautifully tonal. Rouse is a bit of a chameleon. I like that, but I sometimes wondered if we were stretching the definition of music as we know it. I have maintained for years that modern music, if nothing else, cleans the cobwebs out of our brains and prevents us from becoming stale in our listening habits. Symphony 1 does that job and does it well. It IS music, after all. It just isn’t music we are accustomed to hearing. For me, it is worth repeated listening sessions.
Phantasmata has three movements with uncommon titles, like The Evestrum of Juan de la Cruz in the Sagrada Familia at 3 AM, The Infernal Machine, and Bump. Seriously! I’ll just stick to the music here. The 1st movement is eerie. Like Symphony 1, Rouse inserts wild dynamically contrasting passages, although the movement is never bombastic. The 2nd movement is agitated with lots of ascending and descending glissandos, percussion effects, and a fascinating array of orchestral sonorities, pulsations and rhythms. It’s actually fun to listen to. Promise. The 3rd movement, Bump, Rouse takes us on a Boston Pops tour from Hell, with gouhls and the like dancing around bumping into things and people. Another treat!
I would love to see the neuronal firing patterns in Zinman’s brain as he conducts these works by Rouse. The Baltimore Symphony should never have to prove themselves again. I’m certain they had quite the workout. Much of this is music that is fun to listen to. I am not going to try to tell you that I understand it all, but I think it is enjoyable. (Plus, I like timpani, and there is plenty of it!) The sound is spectacular. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!