Hot Stuff from 1944, Ewww!

I must say, at the onset, that ClassicsToday is a good resource for those looking to find assessments of new recordings that often get overlooked by newspapers. And most of the reviews do, in fact, take into account the review philosophy set down by Executive Editor David Hurwitz. Only, he doesn’t write those ones. Historically, he forgoes the review philosophy completely, opting to address the quality of the music, which tends to expose his blatant dislike, nay disdain, of new music (by “new,” I mean music written after 1900).

So, from now on, I’m going to treat David Hurwitz as if the review philosophy didn’t exist. I won’t go on and on about how he didn’t address the “sound quality” or the “performance.” Instead, I’ll focus on what he says about the music. I think it would be easier on both of us.

That said...

Steven Stucky's Son et Lumière is one of those modern, anonymous-sounding "texture" pieces,

...this is fucked up beyond all recognition. He admits that he lumps—maybe categorizes if I were nice—music into modern/not modern, anonymous/authored and “texture”/ “_____” subsections worth easily dismissing. How condescending is that “those!” It’s like, “We need to build a gigantic wall to keep those Mexicans out!” “Texture” in quotations? Give me a break, David.

I would like to propose a new word to describe the irrational hatred of unfamiliar music: xenophonephobia.

Take that Bernard Hollands of the world!

...but it's no less rewarding for that as Stucky writes for the orchestra with great flair and confidence and the piece delivers exactly what the title promises: interesting sounds featuring an enjoyable interplay of light and shade.

Well, the title...only sort of. Wiki magic! But,

David actually...gulp...liked the piece? That might be a bit strong. I think that he was pleasantly indifferent to it.

*Have you ever gone to new music concert, mingled with the composers afterward and said something like, “Your piece was...um...interesting...and um...well-written,” but you didn’t really care for it and you were just being nice? No. Screw you! That’s happened to me.

Either way, Hurwitz sort of apologizes for his outright dismissal of one of “those” pieces, because it was interesting. Could he be turning a modernist corner?

Gabriel Ian Gould (no relation to Morton) is a young (b. 1974) composer whose Watercolors for English horn and orchestra is a sort of Swan of Tuonela for the New Millennium. If my preferences remain firmly with the old swan, this is still an attractive 12 minutes of pastels, the perfect contrast to Stucky's "in-your-face" opening.

“Attractive?” Wow. Maybe Hurwitz finally jumped on the 20th-century bandwagon.

But now comes the really hot stuff.

What’s that? Hot stuff? (puts on swimming goggles)

John Harbison's Cello Concerto (1993) strikes me as one of his most successful instrumental works, largely on account of very colorful orchestration that features an "East meets West" assortment of gongs and tuned percussion. The result avoids the timbral dullness that afflicts many of Harbison's other works, as does the inventive solo part that cellist David Finckel (of Emerson String Quartet fame) plays with admirable relish. You can enjoy this repetition-friendly work at first hearing and return to it with increasing pleasure as your familiarity with its captivating sound world deepens.

Amazing what can happen when you don’t outright dismiss things.

The main event, Morton Gould's Symphony No. 2 "On Marching Tunes", will come as a shock to those who think that the subtitle, the composer's reputation as a musical populist, and the date of composition (1944) mean that we're going to be treated to some sort of nationalistic pot-boiler. Indeed, the opening Variations and zesty third-movement Quickstep offer plenty of evidence to support that notion. They are brilliant and tremendous fun. But the second movement, Bivouac, really is a tenderly nostalgic berceuse, and the long, slow finale, Memorial, carries the music into regions inhabited by the finale of Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony, which it strongly resembles in its grief-stricken emotional ambiance and quietly ambivalent "major-key" ending.

The only problem I have with this is that Hurwitz likes the oldest piece best; it’s his most favoritest. Though, I’m not surprised with his preference, being a xenophonephobiac and all.

Let’s play a quick game. Queue the soundtrack. And. Go!

Son et Lumière (1988)
Cello Concerto (1993)
Watercolors (1998)
Symphony 2 (1944)

That was fun, wasn’t it?

[...] I have no doubt that it deserves to be ranked among the finest of 20th century symphonies.

Because it resembles Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony’s “grief-stricken emotional ambience?” Air-tight logic that I will not attempt to crack. Not in a million-billion years.

Even if you don't
respond positively to the other pieces on the disc (and they all are a touch more "modern" than Albany's musical average), you will find owning Gould's masterpiece well worth the outlay.

That sucks. He fucked up an otherwise good, for David Hurwitz, review (don't forget that we omitted the review philosophy) with one little, stinking “modern” in quotation marks. I mean, he was doing well for a while, then, thhbbbt! He shoved new music to the side, once again.

It’s sad. Even if we don’t hold Hurwitz up to the same review standards, which he penned, as we do others at ClassicsToday, we’re still left with shoddy writing and a classic case of xenophonephobia.


Gustav said...

Wow. That was a most unfortunate end to his review.

And, Empiricus, with regards to talking to composers of bad works after the concert, I actually have a stock line I've prepared for just such occasions. I think it's the perfect blend of congratulatory conversationalism so as to pretend that I liked their piece, but without lying to their face about what a steaming pile it really was. I would share, but then I have to find another such coded line.


My word has 'sucks' in it!

Sator Arepo said...

That picture of a train wreck was fun to look at. Less so Hurwitz' review.

New music is truly, truly terrible!

AnthonyS said...

For a few pieces of silver, I will give you Gustav's secret line.

Then he'll get pissed at me and I'll say "Whatever, I do what I want".

To more 'seriouser' issues, though, this is a weird one. It's kind of like an A for effort, but still...