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Rouse's Raucous Rousing

07 SEP 11 JASON SERINUS

Ever since hearing Christopher Rouse's music at the Cabrillo Music Festival, it has continued to exert its pull. Rouse has gone through several compositional periods, bouncing between feelings of darkness and death and light and radiance. If the Houston Symphony's 1997 recording, Rouse: Symphony No. 2, Flute Concerto & Phaethon, is dominated by darker emotions, don't let that scare you off.

Under the direction of Christoph Eschenbach, the performances have extraordinary beauty. Tailor made for Telarc's mastery with percussion, each work proceeds apace until unexpected bass thwacks momentarily stun you and leave their deep emotional imprint.

This is "Wow" music, and not just for the effects. The heart of the Symphony No. 2 (1994), played by the orchestra and composer that commissioned it, is its middle movement Adagio. A response to the death of Rouse's friend and colleague, composer Stephen Albert, it's deeply moving. As for the faster movements that surround it, their outbursts and anger make perfect sense in the context of universal grief.

Flute Concerto (1993), co-commissioned by Telarc's soloist, Carol Wincenc, and the Detroit Symphony, has its roots in the Celtic music that reflects Rouse wife Ann's ancestry. The centerpiece of the five-movement concerto is again inspired by death, in this case the brutal murder of a two-year-old English child by two 10-year-olds. Pretty? No. Powerful and real? Yes!

Most stunning is Phaethon (1986), an eight-minute tour-de-force that can serve as demonstration disc for all a sound system can offer. Wow!