IANNACCONE: Night Rivers.   MYERS: Symphony 1969.   REDMANN: Fiasko.
Polish Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra/José Maria Florêncio Júnior, cond.

Vienna Modern Masters VMM 3019 F) (DDD)

This  program includes no composers from Vienna, or even from Austria: Anthony Iannaccone and Theldon Myers are Americans, while Bernd Redmann is German—Vienna Modern Masters—indeed!  I suppose the rubric "Music from Six Continents" is supposed to cover this.

Each of these three pieces, on its own, is reasonably accessible, with its novel features. All three composers work in tolerably but not self-consciously dissonant idioms, have a good feeling for orchestral sound, and clearly strive to produce coherent musical structures. Yet, hearing these pieces one after the other, little ultimately sticks in the mind (or the ear), perhaps because of an absence of real melody which would distinguish them—it all runs together into a sort of generic modern-music sound.

I feared the worst from Bernd Redman's piece—not only is any composer who calls his piece "fiasco" simply tempting fate, but the program notes suggested the most pretentious sort of academic Expressionism. ("The music, freed from any obligation to be orderly, flies out of control. The frenzy of the orchestral whole is irreversible…")  You get the idea. It turned out to be not only a good deal less fearsome, but the highlight of the program. On the few occasions where the full orchestra does play all at once, the results are far more listenable than the aimless, undifferentiated tutti rantings of, say, John Corigliano's much-ballyhooed Symphony. The quiet, whirling woodwinds and skittering strings of the very opening herald a twenty-minute play of variegated colors and textures, occasionally infiltrated by echoes of Mahler's angular Angst and Stravinsky's "primitive" rhythmic drive. Not suitable for casual listening, but definitely worth the acquaintance.

Iannaccone's Night Rivers also has its moments, again despite clunky program notes, the composer's own this time ("the restless flow of either shimmering or demonic gestures against sustained stable sonorite"… sigh). Taking the concepts of "night" and "river" in Walt Whitman's poetry as pictorial departure points, the music layers plastic sonorities in liquid washes, many in appealing half-tints. It sometimes falls too handily into the clichés of "accessible" modern music—string harmonics, sometimes with light, New Age-y percussion accents; pounding, driving rhythms; the intrusion of ominous sustained brasses into a quiet passage—but nonetheless makes a positive impression, particularly in the lyrical oboe solo presaging the final fadeout.

Theldon Myers' three-movement Symphony 1969 is so chromatic as to be practically non-tonal, but his use of intervallic motifs—notably the ascending fourth and ascending major third—gives at least an impression of short-term tonal anchoring. Set against his densely dissonant tuttis, the quieter, more open textures stand in especially sharp relief. The orchestration is exceptionally skilled, in terms of both choices of timbre and clear balances—I especially liked the crisp pizzicato punctuations under the irregular woodwind phrases in Movement II, and a long, circuitous, expressive flute solo in Movement III.  Unfortunately, the ending just peters out inconclusively.

The performances sound first-rate—well-prepared and carefully thought out; under Florêncio, the Polish Radio forces play with discipline and clear purpose. (Compare Christoph von Dohnányi's performance of Hartmann's Adagio (Decca  458 902); stylistically similar to Myers' symphony and arguably a better piece, it sounds comparatively approximate and aimless, the Cleveland Orchestra notwithstanding.   Engineering is similarly excellent, except where cymbal rolls produce a shrill edge in some tuttis of the Myers.

S.V. (Oct. 2000)