Augusta Read Thomas: Astral Canticle

Part of a major series of recordings of works by Augusta Read Thomas being released by Nimbus Records, this CD originates from a concert by musicians of the University of Illinois, which took place on December 9th 2014 in celebration of Thomas' 50th birthday. The works of Thomas gathered here cover a relatively short span in this composer's chronology – just 13 years from the earliest work (Bells Ring Summer, from 2000) to the most recent (the song Twilight Butterfly, from 2013). Thomas the large-scale thinker is very much on display here, with two substantial orchestral works dominating the proceedings. But Thomas the deft miniaturist is also present, with a brace of vocal and instrumental jeux d'esprit written either for specific occasions or as personal messages to friends and colleagues. If there is a larger theme to be gleaned from this grouping of apparent extremes from Thomas' output, it would surely be that for this of all living composers, music acts as the ultimate means of communication, be it in the shape of a ceremonial orchestral work such as Radiant Circles, or a surprise wedding gift such as Capricci. The largest work presented here is the gently meditative and brazenly celebratory, Astral Canticle, for flute, violin and orchestra. It was premiered on June 1st 2006 by flutist Mathieu Dufour and violinist Robert Chen under Daniel Barenboim as part of his final concerts as the Chicago Symphony’s Music Director. The work's two soloists are heard only very lightly supported, and their alternation with the fanfaresque sections which showcased the Chicago Symphony's legendary brass section imparts the work a "call-and-response" quality. The music's harmonic environment moves seamlessly from the open diatonicism of the chant-like solo lines at the opening through dissonances which are bracing without ever being abrasive. Such harmonic flexibility seems to embody Thomas' own words: “Old music deserves new music and new music needs old music”


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Review "This CD has a wide variety of music from Augusta Read Thomas celebrating her 50th birthday. Many of the pieces seem to have been inspired by the natural world. The attraction in this CD is the wide variety of genre used from solo instruments to full orchestra and vocal music. The CD starts with Radiant Circles for orchestra in which brass fanfares play a prominent part together with timpani. This is followed by Resounding Earth for percussion quartet which consists of bell sounds and sonorities allowed to mix with one another. Juggler of the Day for female chorus is set to a text by Emily Dickinson. This is folowed by Capricci for flute and clarinet, a very attractive piece written for a wedding. Twilight Butterfly is for mezzo soprano and piano. The lyrics are by the composer. Bells Ring Summer is for solo cello and Pulsar for solo violin. The piece for cello is is more relaxed. The final and longest piece at nearly 17 minutes is Astral Canticle, a double concerto for flute, violin and orchestra. The soloists play alone for much of the time in a very relaxed manner, with orchestral interventions from time to time, particularly from the brass. The recording is excellent. There are many artists included on the disc whose biographies are all well covered in the booklet. If you have enjoyed the other recordings by Augusta Read Thomas on Nimbus then you will certainly enjoy this one."- Anonymous
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