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|
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: