* Rouse: Concert de Gaudi
* Dun: Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra [Yi2]
Sharon Isbin (guitar), Gulbenkian Orchestra/Muhai Tang
Teldec 8573-81830-2 Total time: 56:08
Summary for the Busy Executive: Castanets and p'i-p'a.
Christopher Rouse and Tan Dun have hot careers right now, and at least
one of them deserves his. I must say that no work I've heard by Tan
Dun has impressed me enough to want to hear it twice, and this concerto
proves no exception. The liner notes blather about both composers'
"philosophies" (Right. Like Leibnizian monism, I suppose. Does anybody,
other than the composers' mothers and objets d' affection really care?).
Better the writer tried to clarify the music, but this is just a minor
Tan Dun could believe the moon was made of green cheese, and I wouldn't
think twice about it, if his guitar concerto didn't bore the bejeezus
out of me. In a work lasting nearly half an hour, less than a third
(the "Andante agitato" section) demonstrates any movement or rhetorical
contrast at all. In other words, the rest of it could have been written
by a synthesizer keyboard, a MIDI sequencer, and a chimp. Not quite fair,
since the orchestration shows some imagination, but you can't rely
on that for a thirty-minute piece. You might as well watch paint dry.
In general, Dun's music doesn't like to move, and it always seems a Big
Deal when it does, like trying to push a truck uphill or like Tchaikovsky
modulating to another key. The mountains shudder, the earth trembles,
but usually only for a couple of minutes. At least Tchaikovsky knows
that he needs to go from here to there, and he succeeds, often by brute
force, if nothing else. I get the impression Dun doesn't believe
transformation or transition necessary. Music for him seems to reflect
an unchanging state of mind. This may work for Chinese music (I don't
know whether I've actually heard the real thing), but not for most
listeners in the West.
Rouse's music, on the other hand, moves like gangbusters, and from the
opening bars, to boot. Curiously, Rouse's beginning resembles Dun's -
a stentorian announcement from the solo guitar. They differ in that
Rouse's music keeps on going. A composer of guitar music avoids the
Spanish and Latin-American idioms with difficulty, and Rouse in the first
movement gives the Spanish idiom a big, fat hug - Falla and Rodrigo on
steroids. But something seems to happen during that movement's course.
The Iberianisms, though still present, seem to melt and morph into
something else, something more fluid and at least a little unsettling.
One can say the same for the reflective slow second movement, inspired
at least in part by Gaudi's Temple de la Sagrada Familia. It starts
out in the same psychological territory as the famous slow movement of
Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, but the same thing happens. We quickly
find ourselves in a realm of phantoms. Indeed, the concerto reminds me
of Sagrada Familia itself - sharp images emerging from and sucked into
a structure apparently built from fungal flesh. The third movement gives
us more of the same, this time with pyrotechnical opportunities for the
soloist. Rouse, like Falla before him, has brilliantly rethought the
Spanish idiom to come up with something individual. When he brings back
the concerto's very first idea, he immediately transforms it, and by
this time it seems like the most natural thing in the world.
Sharon Isbin seems to me (a non-player) a great technician, but more
importantly a brilliant musician as well. These aren't easy pieces
for performers to get their minds around. Both Isbin and conductor
Muhai Tang make music - as best they can in the Dun, and brilliantly
in the Rouse. Despite my obvious dismissal of the Dun, the Rouse alone
justifies the money I spent. The sonic image - the combination of guitar
with orchestra is notoriously difficult - sounds, again, "natural," even
though at least one brilliant engineer sweat to set it up.