Garrop: Mythology Symphony (CD review)

Also, Thunderwalker; Shadow. Alondra de la Parra, Markland Thakar, CCPA Symphony and the CCPA Chamber Orchestra. Cedille CDR 90000 160.

First off, you're maybe wondering who Stacy Garrop is. For those of you who don't know her, Ms. Garrop is an award-winning composer, an Associate Professor of Composition at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, and a Cedille Records artist with compositions on nine CD's. Here, we find three of her works spanning the years 1999-2013, presented by two different conductors, Alondra de la Parra and Markland Thakar, leading the Chicago College of Performing Arts Symphony and the CCPA Chamber Orchestra.

At Ms. Garrop's Web site, we read that her music centers "on direct and dramatic narrative. The sharing of stories is a defining element of our humanity; we strive to share the experiences and concepts that we find compelling with others. In her works, this manifests in programmatic pieces without text (sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly) and more directly in pieces that draw upon poets and writers for source material." So, unlike so much modern music that often sounds like experimental exercises in pure soundscapes, Ms. Garrop's music most often has a narrative attached, little tone poems that unfold clearly enough without too much guidance from program summaries.

The first of these pieces on the program is the Mythology Symphony, which premiered in 2015. (These are world-premiere recordings for all three works on the disc.) Ms. Garrop has divided the symphony into five parts with almost self-explanatory titles: "Becoming Medusa," "Penelope Waits," "The Lovely Sirens," "The Fates of Man," and "Pandora Undone."

As you would expect from a score about mythologic characters, there is plenty of excitement, creativity, and impact from the music, without its ever appearing bombastic or overwrought. Not that I found it particularly groundbreaking in any way, but it is highly accessible and reasonably entertaining. Parts of it bear an unmistakable resemblance to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, so be prepared for that kind of vigorous action.

The quieter sections of the symphony, like "Penelope Waits" and "The Fates of Man," sound appropriately atmospheric, although I could have used a tad more melody to get me through them (the whole work is some forty minutes long). I probably enjoyed the segment on "The Sirens" best of all because of its impressionistic picture painting. Unfortunately (for me), it is also the briefest movement in the piece. I was hoping it would go on a bit longer.

The symphony ends in a finale both carefree and profound. Its rhythms alternate between contrasting moods, accompanied by the tolling of a bell and an ominous drumroll. Yet, all is well, and even though Pandora unleashes great evil into the world, she also manages to undo some of the mischief she's created. So the music ends on a calming note.

Alondra de la Parra
Most important, Maestro de la Parra handles all of the symphony's differing emotions with both energy and resolve. Likewise, the orchestra plays with enthusiasm and refinement, producing a lustrous, polished sound.

Next is Thunderwalker, a three-movement work from 1999, written as Ms. Garrop's doctoral thesis. It, too, has descriptive titles for the movements: "Ritual," "Invoking the Gods," and "Summoned." This piece is shorter than the symphony, and because a chamber ensemble play it, it displays a greater transparency and, in a few places, a greater intimacy. While I found it a little too rambunctious for my taste, I'm sure a lot of listeners will appreciate its imposing gestures.

The final piece is the briefest: Shadow, a chronicle of Ms. Garrop's stay at the Yaddo artist colony in New York in the summer of 2001. The work is a combination of light music with threatening overtones, rather like dark shadows on a sunny, otherwise peaceful day. Maestro Thakar's delivery emphasizes the overall tragic qualities of the music. It's a strikingly evocative piece, well executed by the director and orchestra.

Producer James Ginsburg and Cedille chief engineer Bill Maylone recorded the music in March 2014 and January 2015 at Benito Juarez Community Academy Performing Arts Center, Chicago, Illinois. As always, Maylone does a terrific job with the sound, this time in fact outdoing himself. It's one of the most dynamic, realistic, reach-out-and-touch-it affairs I've heard in a long while. It is, in fact, one of the better-recorded new recordings I've heard all year.

The sound has an enormous dynamic range, with a realistic wallop to the timpani. It's also smoothly articulated, with a lifelike depth of field, a flat frequency response, strong bass, clean highs, and an overall natural ambient glow. The sound pretty much replicates real players and instruments in a real acoustic setting, so you get a fine sense of being there live without its being a live recording.


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

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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 Jon 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.

Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to both its equipment and recordings review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me — point out recordings that they think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises Marantz CD 6007 and Onkyo CD 7030 CD players, Goldpoint SA4 “passive preamp,” Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura’s hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can’t imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.

Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa