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An extended cello solo introduces the second movement and, after orchestral development, the mezzo-soprano soloist, Kimball Wheeler, makes her first appearance [listen -- track 2, 4:07-5:32]. The following excerpt, not the darkest I could have chosen, suggests the singer's task in presenting the poet's terrifying vision:

Footsteps -- 
Neither bird-flight, inspection of entrails,
Nor Mars sweating blood
Confirmed the oracle's message of death --
Only footsteps -- 

Lees' music intensifies the fearful anguish of Sach's words.

The third movement remains troubled, though reluctant resignation mixes with the pure foreboding and terror of earlier music. The movement begins with a childlike, but sinister introduction [listen -- track 3, 0:00-1:22]. The orchestra introduces new material and also reminds us of themes from the first two movements. The solo violin sounds a macabre dance before Wheeler returns with the concluding verse. The orchestra follows with a suggestion of the Dies Irae in the tympani as the music reaches a climax that is followed by the quiet, concluding statement of the solo violin.

Lees's Fourth can be difficult to listen to because of its unrelenting mood and subject matter. However it demonstrates many of the composer's skills and is ultimately a satisfying emotional and intellectual experience. Lees understandably considers himself a 'visceral' composer, but he is also an expert craftsman. This music is intense and tightly argued without glib or arbitrary note-spinning. Music with depth and variety of color can be interpreted in more than one way and I'd love to hear what the Dallas Orchestra might do with it. In the meantime, I'm happy with Kuchar's fine performance, and recommend it without reservation.

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Copyright © 3 September 2003 Ron Bierman, San Diego, USA


Lees: Symphony No 4 'Memorial Candles'

8.559002 DDD Stereo 61'42" 1999 HNH International Ltd

Kimball Wheeler, mezzo soprano; James Buswell, violin; National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine; Theodore Kuchar, conductor

Benjamin Lees: Symphony No 4 'Memorial Candles' (1985) (words: Nelly Sachs). (Visitations (slow, unhurried); Manifestations (steady tempo); Transcendence (calm, unhurried))




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