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The tonal idiom

Interesting music by composers of varying nationalities -
reviewed by

'... fine, confident performances ...'

New music for orchestra. Music from Six Continents, 1996 Series. © 1996 Vienna Modern Masters

For contemporary composers working in a broadly tonal idiom, there are a number of challenges to writing a successful orchestral work. The first one is the question of form; few composers seem to have the courage to tackle the thorny subject of the symphony. Surprisingly or not, recent composers to have done so have included people with non-tonal avant garde credential like Maxwell Davies. If you eschew the symphony as a major structural form, then what is left? Contemporary orchestral works are often commissioned as opening pieces for concerts, so it seems to be popular to use a variation of the Lisztian tone poem as the basic form of the piece. All the pieces on this disc, including Mary Mageau's piano concerto The Furies, have some sort of narrative or programme, though Juhani Nuorvala's Notturno Urbano has only the vaguest narrative. I am not sure, though, that I would describe any of them as abstract.

The other problem is the tricky film music issue. Unfortunately narrative based, tonal compositions cover ground which has been crossed at some point by the sound track of a film. Ever since Korngold, writing film music has been a retreat for composers wanting to write strongly characterised, narrative, tonal music. This makes it difficult for contemporary composers to write interesting new tonal music without evoking a film score of some sort. It is a compliment to the narrative skills and orchestration abilities of the composers represented on this disc, that at times I felt that I was listening to the soundtrack of a film.

This disc consists of five pieces by composers of varying nationalities all working in a broadly tonal idiom. They have been brought together by Vienna Modern Masters, an Austro-American company that specialises in making available the work of neglected contemporary composers.

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Copyright © 21 March 2004 Robert Hugill, London UK


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