American Record Guide
May 1, 2015

Elena Ruehr studied with Persichetti at Julliard and Bolcom at the University of Michigan. These are all her works for orchestra.

Shimmer (1995), for strings, moves in harmonically static blocks of diatonic counterpoint. It is a glowing (shimmering) dance with grace and a folk-like feel, elegant and Coplandesque, with a dash for minimalism for flavor.

Vocalissimus (1991) for full orchestra, is her Julliard doctoral piece (title from a Wallace Stevens poem - Persichetti was also a Stevens fan). Spanish-style Ravel drifts over the dreamlike state with fanfares and long line.

The more recent Cloud Atlas (2011), for cello and orchestra, is a tone poem based on David Mitchell's 2004 novel. Like the novel, the work is set in a (very free) arch form, in 11 brief sections with the first and last five creating the symmetry, the middle section "set far in the future". Each section has contrasting characters, held together by the solo cello. The work as a through-composed feel without drastically contrasting subdivisions, so it does not at all proceed in rigid block chapters. The music is consistently lyrical and devoid of imposing dramatics. It's played beautifully by Ms Koetzel.

There are three separate O'Keeffe Images. Summer Days (2013) opens with O'Keeffe's scary antelope skull as a fearsome fanfare blast, and contrasts it with a lovely harp ostinato (the floating flowers?) and broad expressive lines (the New Mexico desert, I presume; the abrupt ending, or non-ending, seems illustrative of the vastness). I hear more tone painting than annotator Robert Kirzinger, but it's the composer who offers the suggestions.

Sky Above Clouds (1993) follows a similar path, pitting a fluid ostinato with expressive lines and ending with nobility. Ladder to the Moon (2003) is basically a Navajo dance redolent of Ravel (Navajo Espagnole?) The New Mexico atmosphere is paired with expansive lyricism that suggests (OK, "may suggest") O'Keeffe's striking image. It makes a good closing for this likable release.