Harbison: Symphony No 4; Ruggles: Sun-Treader; Stucky: Second Concerto for Orchestra

Reviewed on Thu 09 Aug, 2018

Steven Stucky’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, thematically rich, tri-partite Second Concerto for Orchestra finds the young musicians of the Maryland University-based National Orchestral Institute excelling themselves.

By no means the definitive American symphony, John Harbison’s Fourth Symphony (dating from 2004) is nonetheless a quintessential example. In five movements it flits with agile, articulate energy, eloquence and ease between jazz and minimalist influences – two of the continent’s signature musical traits – even while it searches, albeit in vain, for a new coalescence of both. The gamelan accents of the Intermezzo add their own piquant touches. So, too, the big boned but nimble Broadway ballet of its Scherzo, the aching, Mahlerian angst of the poetic Threnody and agitated insistency of the Finale. Composed in the same year, Steven Stucky’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, thematically rich, tri-partite Second Concerto for Orchestra finds the young musicians of the Maryland University-based National Orchestral Institute excelling themselves in music that collides Bartók and Bernstein to vivid effect. Begun in 1926 and completed in 1931, Carl Ruggles’s multi-faceted, ganite-hued Sun-Treader is treated to a performance, under David Alan Miller’s knowing baton, as kaleidoscopic as it is probing and concrete.
–Michael Quinn