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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Cindy McTee, Symphony No. 1: Ballet for Orchestra, Slatkin, Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Cindy McTee (b 1953) is another contemporary composer who has carved out an orchestral music of her own in the middle of the anarchic present. Like with Roberto Sierra (whose CD was reviewed yesterday), the present and past mingle together in very personal ways in the music presented on the new disk up today, Symphony No. 1 (Naxos 8.559765).

Leonard Slatkin heads up the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for this set of four McTee works, and he and the outfit once again show they are in a very fine fettle indeed. The Rachmaninov cycle (see previous posts) they are doing is virtually landmark, and now they take on some complex modern works with total conviction and sonically spectacular results.

The four works give us, all but one written in the new century, a very good look at an American composer who distinguishes herself as a voice for today. "Circuits" (1990), "Symphony No. 1: Ballet for Orchestra" (2002), "Einstein's Dream" (2004) and "Double Play" (2010) are what's on the program.

There is a tremendous energetic thrust at times to McTee's music. Each composition has much interest. "Einstein's Dream" with orchestra as well as computer parts, has an overtly modernistic spin to to it, and the other works bring such elements in and out of the picture as the composer weaves her magical webs and musico-narrative thrusts, but that goes to show you that Cindy McTee feels free to use as expressive means whatever she hears and sees fit to include. After all we live in a multiplex aural world where a composer (and her audience) is exposed to all manner of styles and genres, both in the air and by voluntary design. So we also hear what sounds like "crime noir" jazz, romantic and impressionistic elements, repetition for short spells and a special McTee sonic color palette that brings all the sound producing resources of the orchestra to bear on what she wishes to realize.

Rather than give a blow-by-blow description of each work, I will just say that every one reaches out to the listener in its own way. As a classically trained percussionist I especially appreciate the imaginative parts she has written for that section, but there is indeed a fine balance of sections throughout, and her excellent string writing gives a foundational grounding that the wind and brass (and percussion) sections punctuate with total effective righteousness and imagination.

If you like the kind of stereo showcase that Bartok's "Concerto for Orchestra" gives us, Cindy McTee's music here will give you that kind of excitement in its own way. She is masterful and Maestro Slatkin brings it all to us with pretty thrilling results. Get this one, too. You cannot beat the price, so go for it!

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