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BY Charlie Richards

March 10 2009 12:00 AM ET

The mood of "Night
Music I" could not be more different - tranquil, beautiful,
mysterious, and just a trifle ominous. Is this the Circus
Maximus at night, after the crowds have gone home? The weird
animal calls depicted by the wind instruments seem to indicate
this. The serenity of "Night Music I" is immediately
contrasted with "Night Music II", a portrait of
contemporary city nightlife, brash, jazzy and sleazy. This is
followed by the work's climax - "Circus Maximus" in which
all the previous themes conjoin into an odd mélange
that miraculously never descends into cacophony. This is where
the marching band makes its entrance - very reminiscent of the
music of Charles Ives.

A beautiful
"Prayer" rounds off the work - is this a prayer for
humanity or for our current civilization? A lovely theme grows
into something truly majestic and noble - followed by a coda
"Veritas" ("truth"), which brings back the opening
fanfare and ends with a (literal) gunshot.

The "filler" on the
disc is Corigliano's orchestration of an early four-hand piano
piece, "Gazebo Dances" (1972), and the mood is very
dissimilar from the more recent work. This is a light set of
very endearing dance pieces, and they do refresh the palette a
bit after the heavier symphony. The orchestration is charming -
reminding the listener a bit of Leonard Bernstein - not
surprising, as Corigliano's father was concertmaster of the NY
Philharmonic under Bernstein for many years.

All-in-all, "Circus
Maximus" shows Corigliano in a more playful mood than he was
in his earlier two symphonies, which may make the third appear
more lightweight than it actually is. In a sense it kind of
takes its place in Corigliano's output that Beethoven's lighter
4th or 8th symphonies do in
his

and this is no mean comparison. The University of Texas Wind
Ensemble do the work proud, but as there is no other recording
with which to compare it, that's about as much as can be said
on that subject. The recorded sound is fine. The booklet is a
bit skimpy, but the notes are written by the composer himself,
and the aforementioned diagram of the orchestral seating
arrangement very helpful indeed. This is most definitely worth
listening to, and at the very reasonable Naxos price, should be
sampled by anyone with an interest in modern music.

Tags: Music

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