Rouse: Symphonies Nos 3 & 4; Odna Zhizn; Prospero's Rooms

Reviewed on Wed 27 Jul, 2016

Rouse's Fourth Symphony alternates an upbeat first movement with a darkly troubling second, Rouse himself offering no clue whatever as to his intended meaning, though allusions to Wagner (Götterdämmerung) and, unless my ears deceive me, Berg and Mahler, suggest almost certain premonitions of doom.

Back in 1993, the American composer Christopher Rouse, a very significant talent in my view, famously composed a moving flute concerto dedicated to the memory of James Bulger, a toddler who earlier in the same year had been cruelly murdered by two 10-year-old boys. It was an era that also witnessed the promotion of deeply human musical statements by, among others, Henryk Górecki and Gavin Bryars, and this new CD has at its centerpiece two very different symphonies, both of them similarly communicative. The Fourth (from 2014) alternates an upbeat first movement with a darkly troubling second, Rouse himself offering no clue whatever as to his intended meaning, though allusions to Wagner (Götterdämmerung) and, unless my ears deceive me, Berg and Mahler, suggest almost certain premonitions of doom. The Third Symphony (2011) takes its cue from Prokofiev’s Second – the opening is a dead give-away – in that tempered aggression is followed by a set of variations, the prompting model for both composers being Beethoven’s final piano sonata Op 111. Odna Zhizn (2008) and Prospero’s Rooms (2012), both similarly imaginative, complete a musically stimulating programme, which also happens to be both generally well played and superbly recorded.
–Rob Cowan