Steven Stucky (1949-2016) was sadly taken from the world too soon. But we can rejoice in this wonderful new disc of (mostly) first recordings of some of his wonderful orchestral music and songs. Boston Modern Orchestra Project adds another entry to their growing discography of must hear American music with this beautiful recording.
Three works are featured, Rhapsodies (2008), American Muse (1999), and Concerto for Orchestra (No. 1, 1987). Only one, American Muse has been recorded (on Albany Records) before and all are worthy selections from the composer’s ample catalog.
Rhapsodies, the most recent work, is also the shortest at just over 8 minutes. It was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony and is for large orchestra and sounds as though it could serve as a movement in another Concerto for Orchestra. Stucky, who was an expert on the music of Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994), was a master orchestrator as was Lutosławski though Stucky’s style is distinctly different reflecting a sort of friendly romantic modernism with serious virtuosity. This little gem gives the orchestra and, no doubt, the conductor, a run for their money in this virtuosic and highly entertaining little sonic gem. It was premiered in 2008 under Lorin Maazel.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic commission, American Muse was written with the fine baritone Sanford Sylvan in mind. It is a four song cycle setting poems by John Berryman, e.e. cummings, A.R. Ammons, and Walt Whitman and was premiered in 1999 under Esa-Pekka Salonen. Sylvan is a very fine interpreter of American music and first won this reviewer’s heart with his rendition of John Adams’ The Wound Dresser (also a Whitman setting). One should never miss an opportunity to hear Sylvan’s work.
Again we are treated to Stucky’s acute and subtle sense of orchestration which works with the poetry unobtrusively paralleling the words with the musical accompaniment and seemingly creating its own poetry in sound. Sylvan is in fine voice and seems to be enjoying his performance, a very satisfying experience.
The inclusion of Stucky’s first Concerto for Orchestra which was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra and premiered in 1988 (under Ricardo Muti) will satisfy fans of this composer’s work as it provides an opportunity to hear “the one that got away” so to speak. It was the runner up for the Pulitzer Prize which he would later win for his Second Concerto for Orchestra (2003) in 2005.
In it’s three movements Stucky is clearly the master of his realm and creates a wonderful listening experience. His sense of drama and emotion are stunning and serve to underscore the dimension of what the world has lost in his passing. But it is time to leave sorrow aside and let the music speak and thus provide the composer with a dimension of immortality.
As usual the performance and recording are impeccable and Gil Rose continues to record wonderful music that deserves more frequent hearings and does honor to the memory of a cherished artist. Now can a recording of Stucky’s 2012 Symphony be far behind? Let’s hope so.