THOMAS SLEEPER - Symphony No. 1

THOMAS SLEEPER - Symphony No. 1 - Xenia - Six Arias for Cello and Orchestra - Paul Phillips (Conductor) - Meadows Symphony Orchestra - Albany 1212

If there is one thing that Amerian composer Thomas Sleeper (1956- ) does very well, it's take an idea and manipulate and develop it to its best and fullest potential. Take for example the opening movement of his Symphony No. 1. The simple four-note motif that sets an uneasy tone right from the start, is skillfully worked and tampered with during this agitated five minute movement until it becomes a wild and furious statement near the end. The following Adagio is just as well conceived. It slowly and patiently builds upon a sad and evocative melody until the 10:00 mark, when a brilliantly achieved mood change occurs, like a rainbow following a long rain. But as quickly as it came, as if shot through the heart with grief, the whole movement ends in an ingeniously dramatic fashion. The very short movement that follows, Misterioso, couldn't be more aptly titled. It is always quiet, almost like orchestral whispers, full of shimmering strings, fluttering winds and muted brass, but with a flurry of nervous energy driving everything forward to...without warning the final Allegro energico suddenly comes in with quite a wallop, and will, as it did me, give you quite a jolt if you're not ready for it. It also develops its materials very efficiently to cap off the whole symphony on an energetic note. The Dallas based Meadows Symphony Orchestra under conductor Paul Phillips project the work's intent very well and certainly display their technical skills during the Misterioso movement.

The orchestral song cycle for tenor and orchestra titled XENIA, based on poetry that relates the great Roman poet Ovid's experiences in exile, to me sounds very much like a coming together of Stravinsky's 'Histoire du Soldat' and Bernstein's 'Mass'. It is mostly tragic in nature and well portrayed as such by tenor John Duykers, who seems to almost be acting out the part with his characterful voice. Here the Frost Symphony Orchestra his led by conductor Zoe Zeniodi who is a strong supporter of works by living composers.

The CD concludes with the evocative and versatile Six Arias for Cello and Orchestra in which the solo instrument is more like an extension of the orchestra and part of the sonic fabric, rather than an outsider. Arias 4 and 5 in particular, with names like maris profundis and lamentation, are captivating, and push forward Sleeper's writing skills. Different instruments of the orchestra weaving a plush bed of sound on which the Cello lays down its song. Cellist Ashley Garritson delivers a fine interpretation with a singing tone throughout, and always lends the music its proper emotional weight. This time around, Thomas Sleeper himself conducts the Russian National Orchestra.

Very highly endorsed for those of you who seek new music with a strong backbone of tradition, harmonic stability and genuine human emotion.

Jean-Yves Duperron - September 2010