With his second symphony, Russell Woollen establishes himself as a strikingly nationalistic composer. Robert Shafer, to whom the work is dedicated, led members of the National Symphony in its premiere performance at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall last night, a performance that was as spacious as the music itself.
Woollen's sonorities are in the best tradition of both Sibelius and Hanson. He uses parallel motion expertly andd has produced a marvelously orchestrated score.
The first movement may be introspective in conception; as Woollen's own program notes suggest, but it evokes the broad expanse of the Montana landscape where it was written.
A more active and rhythmically incisive second movement leads to a lovely finale in which gregorian melodies emerge magically from the texture.
Shafer had firm control over the piece and molded the two outer movements with just the right amount of flexibility. On the first hearing, however, it seemed that the middle movement might have been tighter, its rhythms considerably more insistent.
For the second half of the concert Shafter led his Oratorio Society in a beautifully balanced and thought out performance of Ernest Bloch's "Sacred Service." The cantor was David Evitts who sang with great musical sensitivity if a trifle on the straight side. William Graham was the narrator.