Theofanidis: Rainbow Body (CD review)

Works by Theofanidis, Barber, Copland, and Higdon. Robert Spano, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Telarc CD-80596.

In 2001, when the Atlanta Symphony's then-new conductor Robert Spano took over the orchestra, he selected for this 2003 release four American works, two old and two newer. Frankly, the two newer compositions pale by comparison to the older pieces, but at least they bring a modicum of fresh, new light to an otherwise drab contemporary musical scene.

The two classics are Samuel Barber's Symphony No. 1 (all right, perhaps not an all-out classic, but a fine older work, dating from 1936), and Aaron Copland's Suite from Appalachian Spring, 1944, definitely a classic. Interestingly, it's the Copland piece that sounds the most inventive and the most inspired, and Spano imbues it with a soft, bucolic charm. If the Atlanta Symphony doesn't always sound as smooth and refined as we have more recently heard them, we might perhaps attribute the concern to Maestro Spano's having just taken the reins.

The two newer works are, first, Christopher Theofanidis's Rainbow Body, which the composer says he wrote while inspired by his listening to the music of medieval mystic Hildegard von Bingen. Be that as it may, the piece is mostly moody and atmospheric, building leisurely and incrementally, he says, to the "lingering reverberations one might hear in an old cathedral." Fair enough, although on first listening it left me singularly unimpressed. Subsequent listening has proven kinder, so maybe I'm getting to used to it. Still, I wouldn't consider it a future classic in the league of the Barber and Copland pieces.

Robert Spano
The second newer work on the disc is more immediately accessible, Jennifer Higdon's Blue Cathedral. Do you see a thematic element working here with both Higdon and Theofanidis dealing with cathedrals? The Curtis Institute of Music commissioned Ms. Higdon to write the music for their seventy-fifth anniversary. Her idea was to use a cathedral as a metaphor for learning, a new beginning, a place of knowledge, a doorway to another world. Indeed, the music does convey the feeling of a large open cathedral, and in some passages it effectively paints the tone picture of a house of worship and education. I quite enjoyed the music and Spano's handling of it. Both newer pieces are brief at about twelve or thirteen minutes each, yet I doubt we'd want them any longer.

Telarc's sound is characteristically open and airy, with pretty good inner detail and a wide stereo spread. Uncharacteristically, however, the sound appears a bit underpowered in the bass and slightly hard in the upper midrange. No matter. Looking at it optimistically, the music doesn't require much bass, except for some of the more bombastic sections of the Barber symphony, and the upper midrange hardness helps clarify the definition.

Overall, I can't say the album entirely appealed to me, but the Copland and Higdon performances are worthy of repeat listening.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa