Ellen Taffe Zwillich's star has risen rather fast in the last 20 years. She has graduated from the ranks of "woman composer" to someone who has grudgingly gained the respect of the compositional old boys network. She has done this by her high craft, marvelous sense of form and a romantic language that never panders to neo-romantic trends, remaining tough and uncompromising. This disc was my introduction to the work of this fine composer and one of the best you can get.
The Symphony is the first work on the disc, a large-scale one-movement symphony which shows her off in the best style. Zwillich's work is tough, but clear. She has a marvelous sense of form and a language which takes much from the mid-century Viennese school but is uniquely her own. If she resembles anyone closely, it would be Ruth Crawford Seeger, with home she shares a love of dissonance without a slavishness to 12 tone technique or even atonality. And her orchestral pallette is brilliant.
The best work on the disc is the Prologue and Variations. Written for string orchestra, Zwillich constructs a wonderful arching theme which is subject to a brilliant and very moving set of variations. More than just formal work, this piece is deeply felt and quite touching.
Celebration is also an attractive work, though it is little more than an occasional piece. On the whole, this is a terrific CD to introduce you to one of the most important American composers to emerge from the last 30 years.