Andrew Farach-Colton
May 1, 2009

Exuberant performances of irrepressibly melodic, profoundly delightful music

I was introduced to Michael Gandolfi’s imaginative, profoundly delightful music with Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony’s superb recording of his 2007 work The Garden of Cosmic Speculation (Telarc, 5/09). Listening to this new disc of earlier compositions, I get the sense that Gandolfi can’t help but to write music that pleases the ear. Even the ostensibly atonal language of Points of Departure (1988) is mitigated by luminous, delicately colored orchestration and an overarching lyricism that seems to bind together the work’s motivic intricacies.

It’s not really a significant leap, then, from Points of Departure to the predominantly tonal world of Themes from a Midsummer Night (2002), a concert suite derived from Gandolfi’s incidental music to a production of Shakespeare’s play. Not all of the movements are as intensely sweet as the “Hermia and Lysander” section, with its dreamy, song-like tune (memorably plucked out on a harp) and gently rippling piano accompaniment, but the suite’s overall effect is still disarmingly charming.

Y2K Compliant (2000) is inspired both by matters technological as well as pedagogical (it was initially conceived with the title “Freshman Theory”). What this means for listeners is, I’d say, largely irrelevant. In the opening movement, for example, Gandolfi describes his lopping-off of various sequences and patterns as the musical equivalent of “short circuiting,” an image that might be more evocative if the music weren’t so irrepressibly melodic—even his most jagged phrases sing.

If you’re interested in stylistic influences, listen starting around 3’08” where the composer simultaneously pays homage to Sibelius (shades of the Fifth Symphony) and Copland (in his famous “prairie” style). Miraculously, Gandolfi makes it all sound fresh.

The vividly engineered recording occasionally reveals some scrappiness in the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s string-playing. In general, however, these exuberant and expressive performances provide yet another instance of conductor Gil Rose’s technical command and superb musicianship. Strongly recommended.

- Andrew Farach-Colton

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