The plain speaking of the ‘Parisian Midwesterner’ Virgil Thomson sounds out strikingly in this cleverly planned programme. A Solemn Music, originally written for winds in memory of Thomson’s friend and collaborator Gertrude Stein, is sombre and fierce, a good foil for its later companion-piece A Joyful Fugue. The Three Pictures for Orchestra are a fascinating attempt to create objective rather than impressionistic musical landscapes: the last, ‘Sea Piece with Birds’, ends with a terrific climax of squawking gulls. Thomas Meglioranza’s light, clear baritone is ideal for the mildly erotic The Feast of Love, and the simple and affecting Five Songs from William Blake; Kristen Watson’s soprano is a good foil in the two-voice setting for Kenneth Koch’s surrealist Collected Poems. The playing of Gil Rose’s Boston Modern Orchestra Project is outstanding throughout, and the recording is excellent. A highly recommendable introduction to a significant figure in American musical history.
Performance: five stars
Recording: five stars