Continuing its impressive scheduled releases of new music as well as of overlooked twentieth century works, Gil Rose's Boston Modern Orchestra Project has recently completed two new recordings, David Rakowski's Stolen Moments and Piano Concerto No.2 and Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts and Capital Capitals. Under its eight-year-old “BMOP/sound” independent record label, these two CDs are more evidence of the significant role of Rose in providing access to important contemporary compositions as well as classics of the previous century.
David Rakowski's Stolen Moments is a listenable and approachable example of his witty take on emotion which challenges one's cerebral involvement with his music. With a healthy emphasis on jazz elements (as well as the blues and even the tango), the four movements are assisted by the pianist Sarah Bob in a bravura display of technique and stamina. The same could be said for the incredibly complex and demanding playing of Rakowski's frequent collaborator, the amazing pianist Amy Briggs and what she brings to the Piano Concerto No.2, demonstrating just how incredibly versatile and competent she is as a performer. What she does with the three movements in the concerto is absolutely amazing. Few pianists would even attempt to play the demanding piece, and one wonders how someone survives beyond such taxing and seemingly exhausting demands. While it would be wonderful, if a bit daunting, to see her do such a marvelous interpretation of Rakowski's composing, it's still a wonder to listen to.
Virgil Thomson's work on the other of the two new CDs may be considerably older than that of Rakowski's, but it doesn't sound like it. The first of two operas which he set to text by Gertrude Stein, Four Saints in Three Acts could indeed be mistaken by listeners unfamiliar with the piece as certainly contemporary, even though in reality it's almost a century old. In its time (1934) it was considered a theatrical and musical landmark. Thomson looked to his upbringing in the American Midwest for traditional forms such as folk dances, religious hymns, marches, tangos and even waltzes. Rose notes how “first time listeners will be taken aback by its outlandishness”. They would surely be puzzled even more so by the second piece on the album, the aptly named Capital Capitals,which goes on a bit self-indulgently and archly for some twenty minutes of verbal horseplay, but it is no less witty in its repeated allusions to four cities in Southern France. It's also a pleasure to hear some of Boston's favorite artists who have graced the operatic stage in Rose's Odyssey Opera, such as baritone Andrew Garland and soprano Deborah Selig, as well as the chorus performing under Chorus Master Beth Willer. It may be a bit of a challenge to listen to, but many will find meeting that challenge rewarding, as with virtually any of BMOP's undertakings.