A special eight-page section focusing on recent recordings from the US and Canada

Beethoven Symphony No 9, ‘Choral’, Op 125 Rachel Nicholls sop Kelley O’Connor mez John Mac Master ten Kevin Deas bass-bar Colorado Symphony Chorus and Orchestra / Andrew Litton Colorado Symphony F Í CSCD001 (66’ • DDD/DSD) Recorded live at Boettcher Concert Hall, Denver, September 2014

talks to... Robert Dick The innovative composer and flautist discusses improvisation and musical exploration

A number of excellent releases document the Colorado Symphony’s increasing distinction over the past decade or so, and they play quite close to the top of their form in this Beethoven Ninth recorded live in September 2014, with Andrew Litton at the helm. Perhaps the presence of both an audience and a bank of unforgiving microphones explains why clarity rather than drama characterises the first two movements. You won’t hear the more finely etched interplay and winged momentum of the Chailly/Gewandhaus traversal (Decca, A/11), nor the shattering climaxes of both Barenboim/Staatskapelle Berlin (Teldec, 4/00) and Munch/Boston editions. However, Litton lavishes care over balances, never taking lower brass punctuations for granted, and emphasising woodwind articulation (the overlapping espressivo sequences, for example). If his orchestra never roars, it still speaks and sometimes whispers on different levels In the Scherzo (Litton observes the main section’s first repeat but not the second), notice how the oboe/clarinet/bassoon passage at the Presto Trio’s outset play softer on the second ending, an unwritten yet effective gesture.

Litton and his musicians find their expressive centre in an Adagio that gives the impression of expansive breadth, yet is actually quite straightforward and free from rhetorical lily-gilding. Close listening further reveals Litton’s assiduous application of string vibrato, from minuscule doses throughout soft,

How important to you is it to work with contemporary composers? As a composer-performer, the lion’s share of my performances are of my own music and improvising with fellow creative musicians. I rarely take the role of ‘ lautist’ in the classical sense any more. But back in 1979, when Bill Hellermann wrote Three Weeks in Cincinnati in December for me, I was very involved in interpreting new works and felt that such collaborations were my central mission. Today my students carry on that role!

What inspired you to expand the technique and vocabulary of the ƒlute? To me, the traditional possibilities of the lute are frighteningly limited. In college I was struck by the huge sonic range of electric guitars and wanted an equally wide range for the lute. My studies of electronic music also blew my ears wide open and I wanted to embrace such ideas as continuous transformation of sound in my lute-playing.

Does improvisation help to develop an artist’s musicianship? Yes! Absolutely! Creativity is life itself! Through improvising, an artist is taking the same type of musical journey as a composer does. The natural result is a deepening musicianship. There is a lot of improvisation in Three Weeks in Cincinnati in December, on the micro-level: those whisper-tone melodies dancing around in the opening sections, for example, are represented on the page by free-hand squiggly lines, the interpretation of which clearly involves some improvisation.

Can anyone learn circular breathing? Anyone who is willing to do the work – it’s actually not all that hard. My book Circular Breathing for the Flutist (Omnibus: 1988) is a good place to start.

sustained passages to more liberal applications in the sweetly yet not excessively singing florid cantabiles. While the assured cello/double bass recitative in the finale’s introduction is undercut by occasionally tentative orchestral tutti punctuations, the movement’s profile gains focus once the vocalists enter. The robust-toned Kevin Deas seemingly stretches out his opening recitative for ever, but the Ode to Joy’s opening verses gather firm momentum (helped by heightened woodwind counterlines). John Mac Master’s wooly tenor adds just the right flavour to the March’s gently boisterous, Janissarylike orchestral colour. Litton navigates the myriad tempo changes and sectional transitions with a seasoned hand; notice how he sustains the hushed excitement of the Allegro ma non tanto’s scurrying counterpart without pushing the tempo, while keeping the vocal soloists and chorus in ideal perspective.

The engineering reflects an honest concert hall aesthetic, including the inevitable audience coughs and shuffles, but without the tonal heft and ambient warmth of the Chailly/Gewandhaus and the underrated Sinopoli/Dresden live