Symphonies Nos 2, 3 and 5 -
'The orchestra responds beautifully ...'
Benjamin Lees' Symphony No 5 has recently been nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Classical Contemporary Composition. The work was commissioned by the Kalmar Nyckel Commemorative Committee of Delaware and premièred by the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. Stephen Gunzenhauser was until recently that Orchestra's permanent conductor and has often championed music by Lees. He here conducts the symphony's first recording. Also included in this two CD-set are two earlier symphonies and the Etudes for Piano and Orchestra. Those looking for an in-depth introduction to the composer are in luck. These are some of his finest works and the performances are excellent.
The Symphony No 2 was premièred in 1958. Though it is the most conventional piece here, its tight development of themes and phrases, and unique use of colorful brass and percussion are already recognizably Lees. The work's form is also characteristic. It demonstrates both the composer's respect for classical models and his willingness to diverge from them when he wants a different effect. The piece is in three movements. The opening movement develops three main themes. A brief passacaglia-like figure precedes the entry of the primary theme [listen -- CD 1 track 1, 0:00-1:13]. Lees weaves satisfying patterns as these themes are merged with new material.
The second movement is a scherzo constructed primarily of five short melodic phrases. The movement's climax demonstrates the composer's mastery of orchestral color [listen -- CD 1 track 2, 6:56-8:11]. The final movement is a poignant adagio. There are brief storms, but the piece ends with a feeling of enigmatic calm.
Copyright © 17 January 2004
Ron Bierman, San Diego, USA