When asked if she enjoys writing for orchestra, Cindy McTee (b1953) likely would be unable to put on a poker face. At least, that’s the impression one gets after listening to the vivacious and fertile works on this disc. Each shows a different aspect of McTee’s orchestral love, whether she’s conjuring whirlwind colours, arresting jazz riffs or kaleidoscopic computer sounds.
The repertoire spans two decades, starting with Circuits (1990), which jumps from place to place with almost non-stop, acrobatic energy. It’s propulsive and percussive, full of irresistible textures and details, a burst of orchestral whimsy that’s gone in little more than five minutes.
On a more expansive scale is McTee’s captivating Symphony No. 1, Ballet for Orchestra (2002), whose four movements embrace various dance styles and draw inspiration from famous scores of balletic pedigree or otherwise.
The composer explores another world entirely in Einstein’s Dream (2004), a homage in seven sections of eerie and fantastical invention. Scored for string orchestra, percussion and computer music, the score mixes electronic crunches and swirls with dizzying string figures and a Bach chorale that heightens the aura.
In Double Play (2010), Ives is the inspiration in the opening movement, ‘Unquestioned Answer’, and ticking clocks pervade the second, ‘Tempus Fugit’. It’s a cascade of diverting activity – sometimes calm, often clamorous – that Slatkin and the Detroit musicians fill to the sonic brim.
Symphony No. 1 begins with great force, making an immediate impact. There is a nervous anxiety apparent with an atmosphere of some foreboding. I was impressed by the symphonic structure and a full use of the orchestra that brings colour to her ideas. In the Adagio second movement I felt some similarities to Shostakovich as well as a sense of mourning for something lost. The massed strings play with great feeling and without any sentimentality. That Adagio is adapted from her Agnus Dei for organ in the wake of 9/11. Inspired by Ravel's La Valse, the third movement is a short but powerfully thought out "traditional" movement. The finale owes a debt to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring with jazz influences and is touched with the same foreboding evident in the first movement. All in all an impressive piece, well executed.
This is a disc that certainly deserves the attention of anyone who is not hopelessly averse to modern works. The playing and recording are first rate. The stand-out for me was the Symphony but I found all the pieces well worth hearing.
David R. Dunsmore
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra and its maestro are totally on top of this thrilling ride, which only stops when it hits the buffers with a bang, and the sound quality is exemplary.
. . . the DSO playing like demons . . . this enjoyable collection is a notable inclusion in Naxos’s “American Classics” series. [read more]
With all the ease and familiar components in her music, there is additionally a deceptive complexity. That depth is combined with explicit formality. Her academic training, she has a PhD in music composition, is conspicuous, but uncharacteristic for someone with such a level of training, it hasn’t constricted her imagination, or made her music cerebral. That is a rare talent. [read more]
Slatkin has championed McTee’s music since the 1980s, but their marriage in 2011 informs this disc with a familial vibe that’s apropos for the holidays. McTee writes music in motion, full of kinetic rhythm connected to dance; the First Symphony carries the subtitle “Ballet for Orchestra.” There’s also a polished gleam about her colors, an inventive approach to form and a respect for tradition – you’ll hear references to Ives, Ravel, Bach — without mortgaging a sense of the here and now. “Einstein’s Dream” is particularly compelling in its marriage of electronic and acoustic sounds that appeal to the head and heart.
Detroit Free Press
It has been said that her music reflects a "charging, churning celebration of the musical and cultural energy of modern-day America." Circuits instantly testifies to this with its headlong nervy rushing helter-skelter. In this super-propulsive writing she shares lineage with Schuman, Bernstein and some of the minimalists. There is more sharing to come with avant-garde influences absorbed into her schemes - Pendereckian string writing, chattering voices and clashing percussion. At the other extreme she has a gift for lush romantic music. [read more]
McTee produces well-crafted music that's meant for people's pleasure. Musicians enjoy playing it, audiences enjoy hearing it. What's better than that?
S. V. Pollack
For me she has a truly unique voice . . . [read more]
Harry van der Wal
Harry's Classical Music Corner
Brilliant music, and very entertaining. [read more]
If you're not familiar with this talented American composer, this album provides a great introduction.
Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra know this music well, and it shows. Ensemble playing is clean and precise, the narrative flow of the music is clear, and the blend between instruments and sections seamless. [read more]
Digital Chips, Inc. "DCD Records"
The DSO does a great job exploring these unique pieces. The Symphony is certainly the highlight of the disc with the opening Circuits being not far behind.
This is a great introduction to McTee’s music and one hopes other works will also come to light. [read more]
Steven A. Kennedy
[Slatkin] must have found her technically challenging, elegantly crafted, imaginative, often playful and always vibrant music irresistible.
[Einstein's Dream] is the work to which I returned most often, reveling in its depth and uncommon beauties.
So, this CD is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The work of orchestra and conductor in these performances is exemplary . . . The engineering is superb. I can think of no better way to come to know the work of this fascinating composer. Highly recommended. [read more]
Ronald E. Grames
A very pleasant discovery you should hear!
Cindy McTee is a very unique compositional voice and one that I am glad to have discovered. Leonard Slatkin has a career long dedication to the work of American composers that must be admired and appreciated. His work has brought many up and coming - or lesser known - composers to our attention for nearly fifty years. Cindy McTee appears to be the latest important find for us all. [read more]
Daniel R. Coombs
Regarded as one of the most brilliant composers of her generation, Cindy McTee demonstrates her prodigious skills at orchestral writing in this 2013 Naxos release . . . [read more]
. . . a top quality sound recording. [read more]
David's Review Corner
Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra know this music well, and it shows. Ensemble playing is clean and precise, the narrative flow of the music is clear . . . [read more]
. . . the present and past mingle together in very personal ways . . .
If you like the kind of stereo showcase that Bartok's "Concerto for Orchestra" gives us, Cindy McTee's music here will give you that kind of excitement in its own way. She is masterful and Maestro Slatkin brings it all to us with pretty thrilling results. [read more]
Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review
. . . McTee creates a wonderful confluence of sounds . . . [read more]
. . . very well played by the Detroit Symphony under Leonard Slatkin.
The most salient characteristic of McTee’s First Symphony is color: the composer has a fine sense of orchestration and employs it fully here, producing a sonic environment that is always attractive and constantly changing.
. . . this . . . CD has a great deal to recommend it. [read more]
The Infodad Team
McTee taught for many years at the University of North Texas and her music has been played by an impressive array of orchestras from Lyon to Tokyo to Los Angeles and many others. This exciting new recording with the Detroit Symphony and the incredible Leonard Slatkin shows why. [read more]