William Hill - Symphony No. 2 (Beethoven 7.1)

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WILLIAM HILL - Symphony No. 2 (Beethoven 7.1) - Lawrence Golan (Conductor) - Lamont Symphony Orchestra - 034061130024 - Released: December 2011 - Albany TROY1300

The brainchild of conductor Lawrence Golan, the "Point-One Series" (.1) is an ongoing project consisting of the commissioning and recording of contemporary compositions that are musically linked to great masterpieces of the orchestral repertoire. The objective is to help create a body of high quality contemporary works whose chances for a viable future are increased by the natural place within orchestral concert programming that they have. The first release in this series included Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 and Peter Boyer's Tchaikovsky 6.1 (TROY1027). {Albany}

I must admit that I was somewhat skeptical, before listening to this new recording, about the validity of the above premise. I viewed it more as some kind of lame marketing ploy aimed at making someone listen, by default, to a new composition simply because it is on the same CD as a well known masterwork. (It never works for me because I prefer recordings that stick to the same composer from start to finish.) And even in a concert setting, a new work should not have to rely on an established work in order to attract an audience or to become successful. But now with all of that said, guess who has egg on his face.

The Symphony No. 2 (Beethoven 7.1) by American composer William Hill can certainly hold its own very well thank you, even though the composer himself says that it's designed as a companion piece to Beethoven's 7th. Despite the fact that it replicates, or rather mimics, the main themes from the Beethoven, it is not always as obvious as one would imagine. As a matter of fact, if you heard this symphony out of context, you would most likely think to yourself at certain points along the way: "Hey, where have I heard this before? I know this. But I can't quite put my finger on it." By clever manipulation of typical Beethoven rhythmic gestures, key modulations and trademark motifs, William Hill cajoles the 7th to fit like a glove over the hand of his own 2nd symphony, a work built around its own solid backbone that a few times builds up quite a head of steam, leading to some powerful climaxes along the way. A well planned structure, and well executed writing, make for an impressive 21th century symphony paying homage to a 19th century ancestor. The transition from the old to the new, is less of a time-travel jolt than you would expect. They do in fact complement each other very well.

Conductor Lawrence Golan who commissioned the work, and the Lamont Symphony Orchestra from the University of Denver's Lamont School of Music, provide this work with an exemplary world première performance, and play it with a confidence reserved only for old acquaintances. And guess what ... they've thrown in a great performance of Beethoven's 7th to boot!

Jean-Yves Duperron - January 2012