ROSNER: Nocturne. Tempus Perfectum, A Concert Overture. Symphony No. 6 / London Philharmonic Orch.; Nick Palmer, cond / Toccata Classics TOCC 0469
Somehow or other I’ve managed to not see or hear the first two entries in this series although I do have Rosner’s excellent Symphony No. 8 in a performance by the University of Houston Wind Ensemble on Naxos. These three works include the 1976 Sixth Symphony, the 1978 Toccata and the 1998 Tempus Perfectum, all in world premiere recordings conducted by Nick Palmer.
Rosner’s Nocturne is a surprisingly moody, almost dark work, nothing like what you hear from Chopin or even Debussy. It was dedicated to his former pupil Louis Blois, who was also a student of astronomy, and meant to depict the movement of planetary bodies in the vastness of space. The music, then, is sort of a modern version of The Planets with a few allusions to the “Music of the Spheres” as recorded by American satellites traveling through the airless void (I had those CDs once, and they were fascinating). Of course, Rosner’s music has much more form and substance than the Music of the Spheres, but is equally surprising and edgy. It grows ever louder and more powerful as it progresses, despite a brief quite respite at the 8:30 mark, although the volume does eventually recede in the latter part of the work.
Tempus Perfectum, a term from the late Mediaeval period that referred to the rhythmic meter designated today by the time signature 9/8, refers to 3 beats per bar subdivided into three smaller units. It is an altogether lighter, cheerier work than the Nocturne and tonally more accessible if still rather tonal in nature. Here, Rosner also uses lighter and for the most part brighter orchestral textures, including an audible part for the triangle.
With the Sixth Symphony, we return to Rosner’s American “ruggedness” and more powerful figures and sonorities. The liner notes point out that it is “an expression of the rage and bitterness that were significant components of Rosner’s personality, musical and otherwise.” The emotional power of this work is indeed almost overwhelming, and conductor Palmer brings this out superbly. The second movement retreats from this edginess (and the volume level) to produce a really moving lyrical theme that is not treacly or sappy; the highlight of this movement, however, is the soft melody first heard by solo trumpet before being stated outright by the strings. This eventually leads to a loud but stately brass chorale-like theme which provides us with the movement’s climax.
The last movement, which is the longest at 16 minutes, opens with a “Grave” melodic figure of typically American construction, alternating between major and minor, before moving on to the “Allegro” portion which is more conflicted and dramatic, rising to a loud climax at 4:28 (complete with thundering timpani). Towards the end, lyrical and dramatic, volatile outbursts alternate with one another, with a dolorous melody played by a solo trumpet running its course through all of it. The movement, and the symphony, both come to a quiet conclusion, as if resolved to one’s fate.
This is, for the most part, quite extraordinary and interesting music, well worth hearing!
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
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