April 2008

Michael Gandolfi - The Garden of Cosmic Speculation
Telarc SACD-60956
Format: Hybrid Mulitchannel SACD
Released: 2008

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Somewhere in the Border’s area of Scotland lies the real Garden of Cosmic Speculation. American composer Michael Gandolfi’s three-part symphony, given its world premiere recording by Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony, is the composer’s attempt to put into music his impressions of that garden. To listen to this recording is to stroll contemplatively through the Garden's many reaches; as befits anything dedicated to the cosmos, this composition is an amalgam of past, present, and future. Gandolfi makes good use of all the themes he borrows to offer many opportunities for speculation and quiet contemplation. I was especially taken with his mixture of all manner of Western music -- including Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Miles Davis, Steve Reich and Gregorian chant -- during "The Universe Cascade," and how he weaves Gershwin inferences into "The Willowtrist" and Copland into "Gigue." But this album isn’t only about the past, as Gandolfi also includes plenty of his own 20th- and 21st-century ideas as well, such as in "The Quark Walk." These give this work a fresh, contemporary appeal.

As usual, the sound that Telarc’s Michael Bishop has produced is top-flight. You get a wide, deep soundstage, excellent instrumental separation, and accurate instrumental timbres, plus an overall cohesiveness that helps to hold all these aspects together. The CD layer is good, the stereo SACD better, and the multichannel layer finer still, as it places you within the soundscape to truly encourage your mind to wander.

If you have an explorer’s mentality and a dreamer’s heart, this recording will allow both to blossom. It’s good to see modern composers not losing sight of where their music came from as they strive to move forward in a modern world.