American Record Guide

The Moores School of Music Orchestra at the University of Houston presents four world premieres on this worthy recording —two by Americans, one by a Swiss, and one American orchestration of a Percy Grainger fantasy.

Thomas Fortmann, a Swiss composer living in Tuscany, has the longest work. His Symphony 2, Etruria, is based on Etruscan musical philosophy and on an earlier piece for two pianos and drums. It demonstrates his ability to combine the atonal gestures of New Viennese modernism with jazzier, more audience-friendly modernity. With Fortmann’s crystaline orchestration we can hear different layers, some dodecophonic, others flowingly lyrical. Please skip the composer’s pretentious program notes and let the music speak for itself. The first movement, full of mystery, alternates sighing violins with terse fanfares; the Animate has a jazzy snap and brio. In the slow movement a searching melody is enlivened by timpani, building to a brassy climax and a sonorous conclusion. The finale, like the opening movement, moves on different layers and allows Fortmann’s obvious love of timpani-percussion its full due before dying away in a surprise ending.

Robert Nelson’s Capriccio is a witty piece that alternates dreamlike fantasy and brittle fast music. Andrzej Grabiec, for whom it was written, plays it with loving precision.

As I wrote in a recent issue of ARC, Peter Lieuwen, Professor of Music and Composer in Residence at Texas A & M, writes music with clearly defined melody and jazzy syncopation. His approach is basically classical, with compact structures, but there is a romantic under­current of feeling. His harmonies are basically modal (“pandiatonic” is his word), but full of spice. Astral Blue is typical, a nature piece with a delicate evocation of an early morning sky and stars at twilight, full of rippling minimalist rhythm and lyrical interludes.

The Moores Symphony sounds terrific – lively and youthful, but also solid and rounded. Listen to the intricate detail in the Fortmann or the brass choir in ‘Lord Melbourne’ from Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy, originally a wind piece, here newly transcribed by Merlin Patterson. It is smooth and theatrical. I prefer the spicier one from the Eastman Wind Ensemble on Mercury in the opening, but the later sections here profit from varied colors. The recording is full-bodied, as illustrated by the big bass drum in the finale.

—Jack Sullivan