July 2007

Joan Tower - Made in America; Tambor; Concerto for Orchestra
Nashville Symphony Orchestra; Leonard Slatkin, conductor
Naxos 8.559328
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by Rad Bennett

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

This CD has arrived just in time to celebrate the Fourth of July. It features music by Joan Tower, one of our busiest and most visible composers. Made in America is a piece commissioned by a consortium that includes 65 smaller orchestras based in the United States. Funded by Ford’s Made in America program, the work received an unprecedented 80 performances in 20 months (2005-2007)! It is a jubilant and lyrical Americana piece that sets forth "America, the Beautiful" as its main theme. The familiar tune is sometimes played softly and at other times booms out with jubilation.

First performed in 1998, Tambor is a taut, rhythmic concerto piece that features the percussion section playing a variety of instruments. It is more about orchestral color and percussion than melody.

The Concerto for Orchestra allows all the soloists and sections of the ensemble to have individual statements. It was simultaneously premiered in 1991 by the three orchestras that commissioned it: the St. Louis Symphony, Chicago Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic.

The Nashville Symphony has become a major player in America’s orchestral life and is conducted here by its music advisor, Leonard Slatkin, whose commitment to American music is well known. With virtuoso players at his command, he leads performances that are tight and rhythmic, yet lyrical when called for.

The recorded sound, however, is not up to the usual Naxos standard. It is sometimes smeared by too much reverb that covers detail, and there is almost no perceptible stage depth. This is particularly true in the big full-orchestra sections that add percussion to the mix. Quieter passages are finely focused.