Rouse: Symphony No. 5 (CD Review)

Also, Supplica; Concerto for Orchestra. Giancarlo Guerrero, Nashville Symphony. Naxos 8.559852.

By Karl W. Nehring

A composer who recently left us too soon, Christopher Rouse (1949-2019), had this to say about music. “Without music, my life would have no meaning. It has not only informed my life or enriched my life, it has GIVEN me life and a reason for living. I’ll never be able to explain why these vibrating frequencies have the power to transport us to levels of consciousness that defy words – I simply accept the fact that music has this miraculous power for me and for myriad other people I have known.”

Certainly, those interested enough in music to follow Classical Candor have an appreciation for Rouse’s paean to the power of music, whether that music take the form of classical, jazz, folk, soul, funk, bossa nova, showtunes, power pop, polka, rap, or whatever. We love music, and it loves us back. It can shape our lives in ways both obvious (e.g., choosing to become a professional musician) and subtle (e.g., making us smile in the midst of a stressful day).

As Thomas May points out in his liner notes to this recent Naxos release, Rouse offers an example of an obvious way: “The first piece of ‘classical music’ I remember hearing,” he (Rouse) wrote, “was Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. I was six years old and had been listening to a great deal of early, new-at-the-time rock ‘n’ roll; my mother said, ‘That’s fine, but you might like this as well.’ It was a recording of the Beethoven symphony, and I remember thinking that a whole new world was opening up to me, I decided that I wanted to be a composer. So when it came time for me to compose my own Fifth Symphony, my thoughts turned fondly to that time, and I resolved to tip my cap to Beethoven’s might symphony. However, I wouldn’t want to overstate the relationship. The opening of my symphony revisits the famous four-note rhythm of Beethoven’s, but the notes are quite different, and things take a different turn after a few bars.”

Giancarlo Guerrero
Rouse’s opening tip of the hat to Beethoven is played energetically by the Nashville forces under the direction of Maestro Guerrero. As the CD opens, that four-note theme jumps out from the speakers with manic intensity. As Rouse indicated, it is the same – but different. As the symphony proceeds, the orchestration is colorful and played with precision and gusto. Although the work is in one movement, there are shifts in mood that function much like the movements of a more traditional symphony. At around 8 minutes in, the bustling energy gives way to a quitter, slower sound. After 17 minutes, the overall mood shifts again, becoming more energetic, perhaps even a bit nervous-sounding. But there is another quiet interlude, at one point sounding almost forlorn. As the symphony builds to an exuberant finish, hints of the Beethoven can be heard again. All in all, this symphony is quite a romp. Yes, it is certainly more “modern” sounding than Beethoven, but it feels generally tonal and should appeal to all but the most conservative listeners.

The next piece on the album, Supplica (Italian for “entreaty” or “supplication”) has the feel of a Mahler/Bruckner slow movement. It is intense and focused, more inwardly focused, although there are moments that feel like someone calling out, as around the 8-minute mark with the pleading sound of a trumpet. It is an intense piece – not in the sense of being difficult to listen to, but rather in the sense of intense reflection and contemplation, with an element of yes, supplication, perhaps prayer. The final measures offer no real hint that any resolution has been reached, though, as the music ends quietly and ambiguously.

The final composition, Rouse’s Concerto for Orchestra, is the most challenging piece of the three on the CD. It is atonal (meaning that it has no definite key – not that it is dissonant or harsh-sounding) and bursting with energy. The sections of the orchestra get quite a workout, starting with bustling trumpets and bringing in unsettled-sounding trombones, strings, winds, and plenty of percussion along the way. The piece is complex, shifting in mood and color as it goes along, but always maintaining a high level of extroverted energy, which Guerrero and his orchestra are happy to supply, ably assisted by the engineers, who have captured the proceedings in splendid fashion.
There is a sense in which you can almost imagine these three compositions as forming one large symphony, with a fairly straightforward opening movement (Symphony No. 5)  an introspective middle movement (Supplica), and a brash, no-holds-barred finale (Concerto for Orchestra). Or maybe my imagination  is getting the better of me…

In closing, I will share another statement from the composer. It seems to summarize what the music on this release can do for those who listen attentively. “My hope has been to do for my listeners what Beethoven and Berlioz and Bruckner and Ibert and all of those others who worked – and still do – for me. I’ve wished to ‘pay it forward’ by inviting listeners to call on me to enter their hearts and their lives and allow me the honor of accompanying them on their road through life. If summoned I will try to be of use, to sing you a song, to paint you a picture, to tell you a story. Perhaps we can take a journey together. A caveat: I may sometimes take you to a place you’ll find it difficult to go, but my goal will always be at journey’s end to provide you with solace and strength.” 


To listen to an excerpt from this album, click below:

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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 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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical 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 simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I 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 an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, 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