Born in China in 1945 and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thomas Oboe Lee has lived in the United States since the mid-1960s. As you might I guess from these barest facts of his biography, they make for a rather heady cultural mix. As the composer himself disarmingly puts it: "The first thing people say after hearing my music is, 'Your stuff is all over the place. I hear jazz, I hear samba, I hear neoclassical and romantic things...'"
In this new recording of six of Lee's concertos, you hear all of that and more.
The jazzy, sultry Flauta Carioca—a flute concerto with a slow movement marked Bossa nova—white the most "South American" of all these hugely entertaining works, it resists any easy classification, just as the elegantly classical piano concerto Mozartiana and the intensely romantic Violin Concerto manage to do. Eclectic, stubbornly original, defying both conventions and expectations, Lee's concertos are so insistently communicative and inventive that it's almost impossible not to like them. While the tone poem for cello and orchestra Eurydice is the most ambitious of these pieces—and, at more than 32 minutes, it's so soulful, dramatic, and eventful that it never threatens to wear out its welcome—the pick of the collection may be that 17-minute oboe concerto on another classical subject, the haunting and wistful Persephone and the Four Seasons.
As always, the performances by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Gil Rose sound definitive.
In short, another triumph from a courageous and invaluable label.