Donald Rosenberg
September 1, 2015

The orchestra is a vessel for swirls of colour and animated incident in the creative hands of Donald Crockett. The three works the Boston Modern Orchestra Project perform on this new disc show the American composer fully engaged with nature, especially as experienced in his home state of California, as well as myriad emotional states. Crockett has a knack for developing musical kernels and summoning rich contrasts of atmosphere.

The oldest piece, from 1990, is Wedge, which explodes with striking motivic ideas and varied textures. Crockett pays tribute to Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto in what booklet annotator Christopher Hailey aptly describes as “a fleeting allusion to the distinctive ‘passport chord’ that opens each of Stravinsky’s four movements”. But what we mostly hear in less than 10 minutes is an explosion of brilliant woven materials.

Crockett wrote his Viola Concerto (2012) for his wife, Kate Vincent, whose focus and sensitivity are stamped on every moment of this vivid four-movement work. The piece takes the soloist and orchestra through a kaleidoscopic series of encounters—at turns warm, playful, argumentative and whirlwind. It is a superb addition to the viola repertoire.

The five movements of Blue Earth (2002) portray aspects of nature—beauty, majesty and fury—without ever sounding like modern-day Debussy. Crockett paints his land- and seascapes with exceptional finesse and power, finding inventive ways to meld winds, brass, strings and percussion into something of elemental eloquence. Gil Rose and the Boston ensemble raise the sonic roof when they aren’t savouring the delicate pleasures in Crockett’s music.