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Sunday, December 19, 2021

John Harbison, Diotima, Dawn Upshaw, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose


I was happy to discover the music of John Harbison at the very beginning of my serious interest in New Music, thanks to some of the more adventurous releases  from labels like Nonesuch in their "golden age." I've managed to keep pace with many of the recordings that followed. Type his name in the search box above for my reviews of some of the gems that have come out in the last decade.

And as time marches on there is another new one and it is definitely good listening, another worthy release from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project directed by Gil Rose. The program consists of three especially expressive works, the first forming the title of the CD, Diotima (BMOP Sound  1083), the title work being Harbison's very first orchestral work (1976) followed by "Milosz Songs for Soprano and Orchestra" (2006) and "Symphony No.6," (2011) which the composer believes will be the last in his lengthy series of such pieces. The latter two works feature the exceptional soprano gifts of Dawn Upshaw.

In all three cases BMOP under Gil Rose devote great care and enthusiasm in bringing each work to life faithfully, revealing consistently Harbison's special High Modernist lucidity--in ways both advanced and lyrical, effectively sprawling in inventive beauty and imaginative orchestration girth.

The pure orchestral girth of the 1976 "Diotime" reminds us just how lucid he has been from the very beginning. The bookended recent works then give us the full flowering of the brilliance of Harbison's settings for soprano and orchestra, with the brilliancy of the "Milosz Songs" (2006) and the happily unexpected opening soprano and orchestral movement of the "Symphony No. 6" (2011).

This is music of a finely honed complexity that holds its own as a rare and masterful set of sonic adventures, beautiful New Music we can savor and grow with as we hear it the more.

This is music that forms a sonic paperweight to hold down the artistic fort, music worthy of a lifetime of consideration, a central conduit for the Modern possibilities in our current world. Molto bravo!

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