Monday, October 26, 2009

The Music of Michael Daugherty II

Michael Daugherty's music seems to be widely performed on the concert circuit these days. Perhaps that's so for two reasons: a.) His music is accessible in a kind of Populist way. And his eclecticism helps his music sound a bit as if you've heard it before, somewhere. b.) His music often uses as launching points literal themes that are not stuffy or academic. (Mind you, I have nothing against stuffy and academic, either.)

One can certainly see both of these factors at work in a second Naxos release devoted to his orchestral music. On it we find Giancarlo Guerrero conducting the Nashville Symphony in spirited performances of two works that span a period beginning in 1988 and ending in 2007.

The first piece, Metropolis Symphony (1988-93), celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first Superman comics with a substantial orchestral work. Daugherty states in the liner notes that the symphony is a "musical response to the myth of Superman." Like very well received works in the standard repertoire, The Planets and Symphony Fantastique come to mind (and like the latter, interestingly there are quotations from Dies Irae), the listener is given a concrete handle on the music via accessible subject matter.

This alone would not not be sufficient to make the Metropolis Symphony worth your listening time. Daugherty's masterful orchestrational talents shine throughout the work. It's bright, colorful, even exciting music that comes to vivid life on the aural soundstage of this CD.

The same can be said of the more recent (2007) work Deus Ex Machina for Piano and Orchestra. This time the jumping off point is the world of trains. In keeping with the inspiration for this work, the music here has a bit more power and sensory-motor bite than the Metropolis Symphony. Terrence Wilson performs the part of the Machina piano protagonist with drive and masterful execution. This is music of great motion and the piano seems like the locomotive that drags the orchestra along, sometimes at a furious clip.

Anyone looking for orchestral showcase works that convert the vast sonoric resources of the modern symphony orchestra into bright digital sound will welcome this recording. There is exhilaration and much pleasure to be had!

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