CORIGLIANO: Circus Maximus -- Symphony No. 3 for large wind ensemble
(2004). Gazebo Dances for band (1972).
The University of Texas Wind Ensemble/Jerry Junkin
Naxos 8.559601 (B) (DDD) TT: 52:54
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Full of sound and fury, signifying . . . what? John Corigliano has succeeded
in his composing career like a Powerball winner. Unfortunately, like
a Powerball winner, there seems little connection between deserts and
reward. His pieces, especially those written since about 1975, have made
a huge splash (Symphony No. 1, Ghosts of Versailles, etc.) and
then sunk. If not the actual works, people do remember the original success,
and Corigliano keeps getting commissions. I find his scores in general
bland and facile, gimmicked-up either musically or programmatically to
replace genuine interest.
Of late, Corigliano has taken on the role of social Jeremiah. Thus, the Symphony
No. 1 was "about" the plague of AIDS. To me, that was the only interesting
thing about it. I fell for the hype, bought the CD, and listened to it exactly
twice before I decided "comatose" was hardly a state I enjoyed. Circus
Maximus responds to the coarsening and dumbing-down of American culture.
Corigliano's program notes compare the deadly spectacle in the Roman arena to
today's "reality shows," like Survivor and Fear Factor (are
either of them still on?). To me, he stretches the analogy until it breaks. After
all, we also have American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance.
I don't believe the Romans had anything like those, and of course nobody on Survivor ever
got eaten by a lion.
Corigliano conceived of the symphony "spatially," with three bands
(one on stage, a marching band in the audience, and various groups of instruments
scattered among the various tiers of the concert hall). In short, the players
surround the audience (no escape!). This sonic experience doesn't translate fully
to stereo, and of course I haven't got surround sound. I'm not sure the CD even
provides it. At any rate, we've got these huge forces (including a 12-gauge shotgun;
don't ask), and it strikes me -- as, to be fair, it did Corigliano -- that the
music had better justify the resources. For me, it doesn't, although I do like
two of the eight movements: "Night Music I," a rare stretch of quiet
in a rackety score, and "Prayer." For the rest of it, Corigliano's
composing conscience apparently fell asleep. So tied to the blueprint of his
forces, the music frees itself only sporadically. Indeed, the symphony comes
across as an example of the vulgar spectacle Corigliano wants to rail against.
On this CD, the gimmickry extends even to the cover -- a "3-D-alistic" rendering
of the title. The pot calls the kettle black.
Gazebo Dances, originally for two pianos, has proved one of
the composer's most popular works. He's arranged it for both band and
orchestra. It's delightfully unpretentious, with witty melodies and dance
rhythms, and, thank God, you can't smell a whiff of Significance in it.
It convinces me that Corigliano has mistaken his talent. This is
what he ought to be writing.
One of America's premiere bandmasters, Jerry Junkin leads his Longhorns in precise,
vigorous readings of both works. Corigliano has nothing in the performance to
complain about. Pitch is precise, blend almost perfect. There's an occasional
roughness of tone, but that tends to suit the symphony, which must have been
hell to keep together, given the distances between the various forces. I can't
recommend the symphony, but I can the dances. It's up to you.
S.G.S. (October 2009)