Rainbow Body / Blue Cathedral / Symphony 1 / Appalachian Spring Suite

List Price: $17.98

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Product Description

lanking two major works from an earlier generation of American composers are two shorter ones by contemporaries whose command of orchestral textures and hues make for a stimulating program. Christopher Theofanidis' Rainbow Body opens quietly, and builds to a shattering brass-and-percussion-led close, fully exploiting the rich colors of Atlanta's crack orchestra. Jennifer Higdon's Blue Cathedral, which closes the disc, is a finely textured exploration that, in her words, represents an imaginary journey "through a glass cathedral in the sky." It has a soaring quality that captivates, and while not as melodic as Theofanidis' piece, is as compelling in its own way. Spano excels in the Barber and Copland works too; the Barber Symphony No. 1, played with coiled energy, the Copland Suite from Appalachian Spring, full of atmosphere and momentum. Both are among the best available. This brilliantly engineered disc is a winner. --Dan Davis

Customer Reviews:

  • Introducing a Vibrant New Composer
    The great strength of this spaciously recorded disc is "Rainbow Body" by Christopher Theofanidis. It suggests that new music needn't be ugly, but neither should it be disposable. Like Michael Torke, Theofanidis builds his compositions on classical forms and remains committed to beauty -- which is why most listen to music in the first place. The Barber Symphony is competitive with many recorded performances, and while the Copland offers nothing new, it provides little that is objectionable. "Blue Cathedral" is a challenging, imaginative work. One forgets that this "little" label in Cleveland has given the world so much. What it has given is in evidence here. Don't hesitate to buy this release. The SACD/Hybrid has a slight edge on sound quality, so the extra cost is reasonable. A solid buy....more info
  • A Quartet of Perfection
    I bought this cd just to hear Jennifer Higdon's "blue cathedral" which is stunning with amazing orchestral colors and emotional content. What I wasn't expecting was a gorgeous piece based ona chant of Hildegard of Bingen from Theofanidis. It sounds like very Hollywood-esque and if you like Respighi (which I do) then this is a piece you need to hear.

    The recording of the Barber Symphony No. 1 is the first recording of it that I didn't find boring. Spano is conducting some wonderful musicians!

    The recording of Appalachian Spring is tight and precise. The recoridng quality throughout is crystal clear. Spano won the Orchestral Grammy's last year. I think he may do the same this year with this release!

    Here's hoping anyway!...more info

  • Surprisingly Sloppy
    I won't comment too much on the new pieces here, but the performance of the Barber Symphony is surprisingly sloppy. The wind playing is really quite bad - check out the cracks in the bassoon and clarinet in their solos in the fugue or the intonation of the famous oboe solo. I'm frankly surprised that Spano put up with this type of execution. For a truly gorgeous rendition of the oboe solo, try Alsop's Naxos disc of this symphony. While the "big" moments sound good, with prominent brass, healthy and in tune strings, it's during the quieter moments that the "cracks" show, especially upon repeated listening. The Higdon piece has wonderful moments, and I like her music in general but must say this isn't the most impressive piece from her I've heard. The Theofanidis is simple and, if you like music that avoids counterpoint or harmonic motion, beautiful. I find that it doesn't reveal a whole lot of new facets on repeated listenings. ...more info
  • Awesome
    Every once in a while, after sorting through the seemingly endless piles of contemporary American composers, you find a new composer that restores your faith in American music, which often seems to be a lost cause.

    This cd is one of those. Theofanidis comes forth as a brand new, amazingly talented composer whose music is simply breathtaking. Rainbow Body is a true masterpiece. Beginning in the low registers with a bass clarinet and cello solo, Thoefanidis moves into the violas and then up into the violins and upper registers of the orchestra. Theofanidis finds the PERFECT balance between modern and romantic styles, masterfully transitioning between sublime chord structure to more contemporary polyrhythmic styles (trombone soli section with bongos). He eventually works up to a powerful, blissful climax and ends the piece. Although just over 10 minutes long, this piece alone is worth buysing the cd over.

    But you also get old favorites, Copland's beautiful Appalachian Spring Suite, Barber's powerful 1st symphony, and, although it wasn't my favoite, a new piece, Higdon's Blue Cathedral.

    To summarize, buy it now while you have the money. Or get it from a merchant (like me) where it is much cheaper....more info
  • This is modern music worth the ticket to hear it.
    I had the privilege of hearing "Blue Cathedral" performed in concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra in the presence of the composer in 2003.

    I bought this recording in the Atrium at the Kimmel Center afterwards and I had the composer autograph a copy (sorry Amazon)(sorry Philadelphia Orchestra, I prefer this to Schumann).

    All the music on this CD is wonderful. It is what you hope you get from contemporary and near-contemporary composers but rarely get: profound, tuneful and listenable in a wide variety of settings. There are times for jagged, atonal music, but not as many times as there are for this music. You will willingly make space for this music in your life.

    As a spiritual person, I appreciate the composers' attempt to integrate religious references. Theofanidis' "Rainbow Body" incorporates elements of Hildegard von Bingen's chant. Copland's music quotes a Shaker hymn. Higdon's "Blue Cathedral" evokes a religious edifice.

    This music works well in both the foreground and the background of my life. It has enough structure and inspiration to hold your attention if you want to give it, but moderate enough to stay in the background when required.

    As an aside let me say this to Orchestra and Recording Label management: This is the way to go! Good modern music chosen and presented well. With so many definitive performances of older music why compete against your own past? Play and record the good new music and people will come and buy. Build a new legacy of great music! ...more info
  • Another winner from Spano, Atlanta, & Telarc!
    Conductor Robert Spano, his Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and Telarc brought home, not one, not two, but 3 Grammys with their previous release, Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony: Best Classical Album, Best Engineered Album, and Best Choral Performance (of course the Atlanta Symphony Chorus had a prominent role in that case). And it deserves every bit of the wild, unanimous acclaim it's received (just take a look at the customer reviews of that recording here on Amazon!)

    This new release is certainly a worthy successor... let's hope there are many more to come from this masterful team. I just can't stop listening to it. The choice of repertoire is brilliant in its novelty and variety, yet coherence and pacing. The Theofanidis title track is, for severe lack of vocabulary, drop-dead dazzling. It moves compellingly from ravishing, breathtaking beauty to spine-tingling, hair-raising power. It's especially enjoyable to listen to in conjunction with Hildegard's "Ave Maria, O Auctrix Vite" (as on Sequentia's Canticles of Ecstasy), the chant which inspired and permeates the piece.

    Jennifer Higdon's blue cathedral is every bit as irresistibly gorgeous and effective. You really MUST hear these pieces, especially performed at this superb level of musicality and recorded in Jack Renner's customarily peerless sound.

    In case the new stuff isn't enough to persuade you to purchase, you should know that the accounts of Barber's First Symphony and Copland's Appalachian Spring Suite are unsurpassed in the recorded catalog. There... intrigued?...more info

  • Outstanding Program
    Some of the previous reviews were obviously written by people that listen to a lot of 20th and 21st century classical music who have described the compositions and performances on this disc much better than I can. All of the pieces here are beautifully played and recorded and the program fits together very well. If you have high end stereo equipment this disc will show it off.

    I'm writing this for those who, like me, don't really enjoy much classical music you've heard that was written in the last 50 years or so. I'm encouraged to hear these new compositions by Theofandis and Higdon, both of which are engaging from beginning to end and stand up in quality alongside the Barber and Copland pieces. I encourage anybody who wants to find some newer music to enjoy to give this disc a chance. I don't think you'll be disappointed....more info

  • blue catherdral
    This is beautiful music and well performed. I purchased it to have a copy of Blue Cathedral, which is an extraordinary piece of contemporary music. My only criticism of the CD is technical in that some places on the CD do not pick up the audio well. This is only for a few bars and does not diminish the fact that the CD is a winner....more info
  • OK, but not great.
    An OK but not great CD. If I had a choice, I'd rather have my $17.98....more info
  • An Utterly Winning Disc!
    This disc is both oddly and creatively programmed. Oddly, because for a CD buyer it combines two very familiar American orchestral works, many-times recorded--Barber's First Symphony and Copland's Appalachian Spring Suite--with two brand new pieces. One wonders who would buy it; most of us probably already have the older pieces, and would ask ourselves whether we should buy a new CD with only about 25 minutes of unfamiliar music on it. [My own personal answer would be 'Yes!'] Creatively, because the two new pieces--Chris Theofanidis's 'Rainbow Body' and Jennifer Higdon's 'blue cathedral' (don't ask me why no caps in the title)--are quite similar to their older discmates and the programming calls attention to that. How similar? Well, they are utterly tonal, as are the Barber and the Copland, have an unmistakably American sound, and are original in their impact, as were the older pieces when they were new.

    The two new pieces are also alike in that they are among the better products of the so-called New Romanticism and, further, partake of another rather more European trend, the New Mysticism, like that of pieces by Tavener or P?rt, or closer to home, the ecstatic mysticism of American Richard Einhorn, whose 'Voices of Light' (happily introduced to me by fellow Amazon reviewer Bob Zeidler) has become such a phenomenon.

    The two standard works on this disc--the Barber and the Copland--are given sterling performances here by Robert Spano, that extraordinarily talented American conductor, and his fine Atlanta Symphony, and the sound is also sterling, something we have come to expect from Telarc. These performances rank with the best ever made. Certainly, if you don't have recordings of either of these pieces you will not go wrong obtaining this CD.

    Chris Theofanidis is a young American (born 1967) whose music is getting around quite a bit these days. He has had the usual run of honors, stipends, fellowships (including Charles Ives, Guggenheim, and Fulbright fellowships, as well as the Rome Prize). This is, however, the only piece of his I've ever heard. I was immediately quite attracted to it and my fascination has remained with many hearings. One could characterize this piece as one that uses extremely slow harmonic motion--typical of the music of folks like Tavener and P?rt--with an ever-changing panoply of musical events above the slow-moving mostly string-tone harmonic cushion (and in this eventfulness alone it differs considerably from the mentioned European composers). His use of brass, wind and percussion color is striking. The piece is based on a chant by Hildegarde of Bingen, 'Ave Maria, O auctrix vitae,' which recurs in various forms throughout the 13-minute piece. There are several climaxes arrived at primarily by the resolution of long-held harmonic suspensions--think of the resolution to a glorious C-major chord of the so-familiar section of Strauss's 'Also sprach Zarathustra.' This is assisted by a technique in which a chord is held onto softly for a moment after the rest of the orchestra has moved on to the next chord, a sort of harmonic nimbus. The tension generated by each suspension does not become at all intolerable, and each resolution is as refreshing as a summer shower. Theofanidis has a real talent for forward motion leading to emotional satisfaction, a talent not present in many modern composers. I truly believe this piece could have a vigorous life on orchestral programs fully the equal of, say, Adams's 'Short Ride in a Fast Machine' or Torke's 'Javelin.'

    Jennifer Higdon's 12-minute 'blue cathedral,' written on commission for the 75th anniversary celebration of the Curtis Institute, has a very personal meaning for her. Her brother, Andrew Blue, a clarinetist, had recently died. In the course of the piece a flute (Ms Higdon's instrument) discourses with a clarinet and eventually, as in life, the flute becomes silent while the clarinet continues upward, as if to heaven. Again, one of the most striking things about the piece is the slow harmonic motion set against which there is plentiful upper instrument melisma. Complex added-note chords abound, leading to an occasional uncertainty about tonality, although this is never unsettling; rather, it adds some spice to the otherwise fairly tonal landscape. The overall tone is a gentle and melancholy ecstasy peppered with almost frantic brass or wind outbursts. Throbbing chords sometimes suggest subdued weeping. Again, I can easily imagine this piece becoming a regular visitor to American orchestral programs. One hopes that this splendid CD will spur that development for both 'blue cathedral' and 'Rainbow Body.'

    One last thought: the two new pieces are the musical great-grandchildren of Ives's 'The Unanswered Question' [harmonic stasis punctuated by upper-instrument frenzy] by way of, yes, the utter American-ness of Copland's and Barber's two pieces included here.

    Strongest recommendation.


    Scott Morrison...more info

  • Classic and Cutting-Edge American Music Done Full Justice
    This is an exciting program that juxtaposes fresh-minted, and very fresh-sounding, American works with American classics, in the case of Copland, almost an American warhorse. However, in Spano's beautiful and sensitive reading this warhorse sounds about as fresh as the new music here. I'm talking about "Appalachian Spring," just about everyone's favorite Copland but a work that is so ubiquitous, thanks to the setting of "A Gift to Be Simple" it contains, we often forget just how marvelous a work it is. Unless someone comes along with the gift to play it with the kind of intensity and sense of discovery usually reserved for new music. I think that characterizes Spano's approach, and this is one of the very best recordings this oft-recorded work has received.

    On the other hand, Barber's First Symphony has been well served on disc; there have been fine recordings from the likes of Leonard Slatkin, David Zinman, and Marin Alsop. If Spano and Atlanta have nothing especially new to add, theirs is a handsome performance full of the tragic drama that has commended this work to listeners since it was written.

    But many will come to this disc for the new music primarily. Be assured it doesn't sound out of place in such august company. Christopher Theofanidis's "Rainbow Body" takes as its point of departure a piece by the medieval mystic and composer Hildegard von Bingen. The melody is fragmented, then put back together in music that builds to an intense pitch. "Rainbow Body" sometimes sounds like Hovhaness, but that is mostly a matter of a similar reliance on a modal melody and strangely similar orchestral garb in which the melody is clothed at each of its appearances. Otherwise, this muscular and direct music is unlike the usual, well, noodling that Hovhaness is too often guilty of.

    Similarly, "Blue Cathedral," written as a tribute to the deceased younger brother of composer Jennifer Higdon, is a work with a "high concept." Higdon tried to suggest what it would be like to enter a transparent cathedral among the clouds, and she conveys the imagined feeling of awe and celebration in a work that doubles as a marvelous mini-concerto for orchestra. Flute and clarinet have prominent solos; the extramusical reference is to the instruments that she and her brother play or played. If Theofanidis's music has an American sensibility about it--recalling not only Hovhaness but perhaps more "athletic" composers such as William Schuman and Peter Mennin (and inescapably, I guess, minimalists or minimalist fellow-travelers such as John Adams and especially Michael Torke)--Higdon's work is less immediately American sounding, more cosmopolitan. Maybe there is some small influence of the tintinabular style of Arvo Part and others, but again fortunately, for me at least, "Blue Cathedral" has much more momentum than Part usually has. Perhaps that is the American element in the work, a quiet impatience to just get on with things that dogs even this largely contemplative, ecstatic music.

    Anyway, both compositions are fine additions to the orchestral repertory. And both seem to have the perfect advocates in Spano and in his orchestra. Having lived with the Atlanta Symphony for the last seventeen years, I am happy to have heard it grow into a body that can be trusted to do full justice to important music like that on this CD. Telarc's sound is superb, even by its usually excellent Atlanta standards. How wonderful to hear every element of the music emerge with utter fidelity and clarity, yet in a fully natural ambience....more info


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