CARL RUGGLES - Complete Music

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CARL RUGGLES - The Complete Music of ... - Michael Tilson Thomas (Conductor) - Buffalo Philharmonic - 2-CD Set - 684390102027 - Released: April 2012 - Other Minds OM1020/21-2

1) Toys (Judith Blegen, Soprano - Michael Tilson Thomas, Piano)
2) Vox Clamans in Deserto (Beverly Morgan, Mezzo - Speculum Musicae)
3) Men
4) Angels - Original Trumpet Version (Brass Ensemble - Gerard Schwarz, Leader)
5) Men and Mountains
6) Angels - Trumpet/Trombone Version (Brass Ensemble - Gerard Schwarz, Leader)
7) Sun-Treader
8) Portals
9) Evocations (Original Piano Version - John Kirkpatrick)
10) Evocations (Orchestral Version)
11) Organum
12) Exaltation - For Brass, Chorus and Organ (Gregg Smith Singers - Leonard Raver, Organ)

I generally shrug my shoulders at re-issues. My rationale being that if a recording is good, leave it on the market. If it's bad, remove it from circulation. Permanently! But when I heard that this recording was being re-issued, I practically jumped out of my skin in excitement and disbelief. For one thing, its original 1980 release was as a 2-LP set on CBS Masterworks (now Sony). This is the first time it's been made available on CD. With all the "crap" that's flooded the store shelves and catalogues in the interim 32 years, it's befuddling as to why this one took so long to appear on CD.

For me, the main reason why this re-issue hits a 10 on the rejoice meter (most of you will think I'm nuts) is because I believe that the orchestral work Sun-Treader by Carl Ruggles (1876-1971) is one of the most potent examples of 20th century American orchestral music ever put to paper. Written in the 1920s, it stands, like a bastion, at the forefront of American individuality. I already have the earlier recording Michael Tilson Thomas made in 1970 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (no longer available) for Deutsche Grammophon, itself a very atmospheric recording of a bigger orchestra in a larger space, but I find this performance with the Buffalo Philharmonic more daring. A more recent recording from 1998 on Decca with the Cleveland Orchestra (nla) was also released, but conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi came at the piece from the wrong angle. Men and Mountains and Evocations are other strong examples of Carl Ruggles' steadfast and determinist style. Even though his music is considered dissonant, atonal and somewhat foreign in style, you can't help but feel a strong sense of direction in its momentum, and that underneath all the rebellious outcries beats a powerful romantic pulse.

Like Webern and Varèse before him, Carl Ruggles was far from being a prolific composer. And that may very well be an explanation for his neglect, as I am sure most people probably assume he didn't create much because he wasn't good at it. But quite the contrary. He destroyed the music he felt didn't meet his standards, and spent years revising and refining what he felt was worth keeping. One of his great quotes, printed in the liner notes of this CD reads as follows: "Oh, there are some fine works all right, the St. Matthew Passion, Missa Solemnis, The Ring, Tristan, and Sun-Treader. When I wrote Sun-Treader, I knew it was great. I knew it!" His musical idols were Bach, Beethoven and Wagner, so to rank himself amongst them goes to show what type of character he was.

If you already know and admire this composer, this is a must-have. If you don't, it's still a must-have. It is unfortunate that he couldn't find the time (in his 95 years) to write more music. Sun-Treader stands like a great lone cry of anguish over the musical landscape. A million thanks to the people at Other Minds for rescuing this important recording from the jaws of oblivion. Great job on the comprehensive liner notes as well!

Jean-Yves Duperron - May 2012