20C: Color Music
Decca Records is in the midst of releasing 100 noteworthy works from the 20th century. The most recent releases in the "20C" series include works by Bartok, Stravinsky and Weill and Messiaen. Perhaps lesser known, but deserved of its place here, is Michael Torke's "Color Music," a collection of seven pieces written by the composer (born 1961) between 1985 and 1994.
The recording begins with "Ecstatic Orange," written while Torke was still a 23-year old composition student at Yale. From the opening bombastic phrases, the 12-minute piece keeps the listener plastered to his speakers while the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of David Zinman, guides him through a roller-coaster of... well, orange. This piece is the first of Torke's four synesthetic compositions, each presented here under Zinman's effective leadership. "Bright Blue Music" uses its cinematic textures and combines them with Olympian orchestration. "Green" features a minimalistic view throughout its performance, indicative of the earlier work of Steve Reich. "Purple" was composed specifically for Peter Martins and the New York Ballet, a centerpiece of an evening featuring the quartet of "Color Music."
The last three works on the album display the mature evolution of Torke's writing. "Adjustable Wrench" has a theatrical flavor to it, with its use of instruments not commonly used in the orchestra (including a pluck bass-sounding synthesizer) in this performance by Kent Nagano and the London Sinfonetta. "Ash" was written in 1988 for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and is the most "traditional" of the pieces here, with its Beethoven-esque tonalities. The concluding work, "Javelin" (1994), combines many of the individual flavors, including a wide timbre of horns, and a semi-minimalism prevalent in the work of John Adams. All in all, it's a highly accessible recording of a composer who continues to create today.
Michael Torke / Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (David Zinman), London Sinfonetta (Kent Nagano), Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (Yoel Levy)
CD and Digital formats
Decca / Universal Music Company