Classical Lost and Found
Bob McQuiston
May 30, 2008


The music of American composer Michael Gandolfi (b. 1956) is the subject of another winning release from BMOP/sound (see the newsletter of 15 April 2008). Many will remember this composer for his large, extended orchestral work The Garden of Cosmic Speculation released last year, but here we have three of his smaller-scale pieces. If anything, they show he can do even more with less, and is a master colorist in the best sense of the term.

In four movements, Points of Departure (1988) only calls for double woodwind-quintet and sixteen strings, but the sonorities Gandolfi manages to extract from this small group of instruments is amazing. In the opening movement, entitled “Spirale,” his use of shreiking piccolos and strings in their upper registers creates the image of some crystalline monolith filled with flashing lights. The next section, “Strati,” with its contrasting pizzicato and pedal point effects is almost harp-like, while “Visione” is awash with luxuriant strings where intervals of a fourth and fifth give it an unearthly quality.

In the finale entitled “Ritorno,” the dream state that characterized the first three movements, is swept away as the music becomes more agitated. Those petulant piccolos return, demanding a change of mood, which comes in the form of a descending tone row. Its last few notes are given to a solo double bass, bringing the work to a rather sinister conclusion.

Themes from a Midsummer Night (2001) is a concert suite of ten brilliantly orchestrated numbers drawn from Gandolfi’s incidental music for the Shakespeare play. Late-romantic in spirit, there’s a clarity and articulateness about this music that makes it most appealing. Highlights include the opening, “Air (Oberon in Flight),” that’s as light as a feather and totally captivating. Then there’s “Hermia and Lysander,” which is a lovely pastoral, and “Bottom Brays” complete with Gandolfi’s take on those heehaws that appear in Mendelssohn’s overture to the play. Scored only for piano with scraped cymbal and woodblock, the closing selection, “Postlude (the Most Gentle),” is absolute magic.

But the best is yet to come in the form of the next piece, Y2K Compliant (2000). It takes its name from the term electronics manufacturers came up with to assure buyers that their products were ready for the much dreaded changeover from 1999 to 2000. Scored for an orchestra of classical proportions, the opening, “Short Circuits,” is a syncopated, polyrhythmic exercise that’s a bit of a magical salamander which swallows its own tail. You may find it reminiscent of Michael Torke’s music. The slow middle section, “Analog Dreams,” harkens back to such lush romantic pieces for strings as Samuel Barber’s Adagio and even Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho. Minimalism is evident in the finale, “Joyous Reverb,” but Gandolfi introduces enough melodic content, including the tune for the chorale In dulci Jubilo, to make it palatable to the most extreme “Glassophobe.” Like the two previous works, this highly complex, intricate music will require repeated listening to grasp all its subtleties.

In music as detailed and transparent as this, the demands made upon each and every one of the instrumentalists are substantial. Consequently all of the performers must be in top form to bring it off successfully. Not only that, but scores as involved and complicated as these require a circumspect conductor to hold things together. Both of these conditions are fully met by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project under Gil Rose, who delivers outstanding performances of everything here.

Recorded at the New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, the sonics are quite good with an ideal soundstage and ambiance. However, folks with sound systems favoring the high end may experience a little glare when those piccolos cut loose. (P080527)

- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (