classical cd review

Marin Alsop conducts four works of Michael Daugherty in crowd-pleasing recording

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By Mark Estren
Sunday, February 20, 2011

There is a reason Michael Daugherty keeps accumulating honors, from the Kennedy Center Friedheim Award to prizes from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the American Bandmasters Association to, most recently, a triple Grammy for the Naxos recording of his Superman-inspired "Metropolis Symphony": Daugherty writes music that is propulsive, accessible yet well constructed and deeply imbued with the spirits of both romanticism and postmodernism.

And there is a reason Marin Alsop handles Daugherty's music so well: She has a natural affinity for this sort of big, brassy, clever, unsubtle music that pushes the boundaries of the classical and popular idioms close together.

So it is scarcely a surprise that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director's new recording of four Daugherty works is an effective bundle of ebullience.

The pieces - on which Alsop conducts the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra - constitute a travelogue of sorts. "Route 66" (1998) is a short, nostalgic aural look at an iconic American highway that has long since fallen victim to interstate-route progress but that still captivates a certain subset of drivers (and inspired the Pixar movie "Cars"). "Ghost Ranch" (2006) is more reverential. It is an extended tribute to Georgia O'Keeffe, who painted her wide-open-spaces works at the eponymous location. The second movement, "Above Clouds," features an ensemble of five horns and an especially broad sonic canvas.

"Sunset Strip" (1999) is another nostalgia-tinged work, tunefully bouncy in its outer movements (whimsically titled "7 PM" and "7 AM") and warm in its central nocturne. "Time Machine" (2003) features temporal rather than geographic travel and is the most rhythmically complex and overtly modern-sounding piece here. It justifies its full title, "Time Machine for Three Conductors and Orchestra," through sheer complexity. (Alsop is here joined by Mei-Ann Chen and Laura Jackson.) And it blares along just wonderfully, from a sonic point of view, providing an effective contrast between "Past" and "Future" (the titles of its two sections). Daugherty certainly knows how to please an audience, and Alsop certainly knows how to make sure he does.

Michael Daugherty Route 66; Ghost Ranch; Sunset Strip; Time Machine. Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop. Naxos. $8.99.


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