Augusta Read Thomas: Selected Works for Orchestra

Gramophone Magazine Editor's Choice April 2014


"According to statistics released last year by ASCAP, a performing rights organization, Ms. Thomas topped their list of most frequently performed living composers in 2013-14.” New York Times

 Among today's composers, Thomas has remained consistent in blazing her own path. In this she has undoubtedly been aided by her cosmopolitan training, having studied with, among others, Alan Stout (Northwestern University, 1983-87), Oliver Knussen (Tanglewood, 1986, 1987, 1989) and Jacob Druckman (Yale University, 1988), as well as one final year in London at the Royal Academy of Music (1989). Her music has travelled worldwide over the years through the advocacy of figures such as Mstislav Rostropovich, Pierre Boulez, Daniel Baremboim, Christoph Eschenbach, Oliver Knussen, Esa Pekka Salonen, William Boughton and Sir Andrew Davis among many others. But names, appointments and honours in themselves cannot give an indication of what Thomas' music sounds like. And the music itself defies any easy verbalisation. Divining influences can give some indication as long as it is borne in mind that knowledge of said influences is no substitute for listening to the actual music. Thomas' long-standing study of Jazz has imparted a sense of rhythm notable for its combination of drive and elasticity. Figures as diverse as Byrd, Bach, Chopin, Mahler, Debussy, Berg, Stravinsky, Berio, Knussen, George Benjamin, Ellington, Coltrane and Dutilleux certainly furnish clues as to how Thomas' music has attained its formal fluidity, a lyricism high-flown and diaphanous by turns, a harmonic language that can move between tart, flavoursome dissonance and warm consonance with an enviable naturalness, and an orchestrational instinct of pyrotechnic virtuosity.



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'Despite the steady number of works that have appeared on various labels, Augusta Read Thomas has not had the coverage her large and diverse output warrents, so this first of two disc from Nimbus could not be more welcome...The performances are as persuasive as expected given the involvement of such as Pierre Boulez and Oliver Knussen, while the quality of sound and the extensive booklet-notes are added enhancements. One can only await Vol 2 of this series with impatience.'  Richard Whitehouse, Gramophone, April 2014 Editors Choice

'First-rate music deserves first-rate performances, and these are what this disc preserves.' Joseph Newsome, Voix des Arts, May 2014

'For nine years from 1997, Augusta Read Thomas was composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony, and three of the pieces on this disc were composed either for that great orchestra or its sibling new-music ensemble, MusicNow. Together with the other pieces here they give a good sense of the vividly imaginative instrumental palette that Thomas has at her fingertips, and which established her as one of the most distinctive and rewarding US composers of her generation.

Luciano Berio has been a persistent influence on Thomas's work, and that's most obvious in the vivid imagery of the earliest piece in this collection, the purely orchestral Words of the Sea, from 1995, inspired by a Wallace Stevens poem; the sonorities are both pungent and transparent, and each movement has its own distinctive dramatic profile. In My Sky at Twilight is a setting for soprano and 18 instruments of a patchwork of poetic fragments that range chronologically from Sappho to Neruda, in which the mood changes with tremendous agility. Thomas's confident handling of a chamber orchestra is perhaps the most impressive aspect of the pieces in this collection.

There are two concertante pieces; Carillon Sky for violin and chamber ensemble superimposes a mostly high-lying solo line on a sound world of bell-like resonances, while the relationship between the solo horn and the ensemble in the more substantial Silver Chants the Litanies is distinctly more confrontational. Terpsichore's Dream for chamber orchestra from 2007 is a parade of glittering musical images that steadily gains energy; it would make a great work-out for any ensemble.' Andrew Clements, The Guardian, February 2014

"Given the multiple recording dates and venues, the sound on this disc is remarkably consistent - that is to say honest, and not showy...Augusta Read Thomas is a composer I respect." International Records Review, July 2014

“Step forward a comparatively young composer writing today in a dissonant and provocative way… The notes are useful and the recordings though seemingly made at different times during the 2000s are brilliant. There’s at least two more Read CDs are to come from this source so Read adherents are to be encouraged.” Rob Barnett,

"Given the wide variety of sources, the sound is remarkably consistent and top quality, serving this most interesting composer very well indeed." Tony Haywood, FRMS Bulletin, Spring 2014

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