Libby Larsen: Deep Summer Music,
Solo Symphony, Etc / Alsop
Deep Summer Music; 
Concerto for Marimba "After Hampton";
Symphony No. 5 "Solo Symphony"
Performer: John Kinzie, marimba;
Colorado Symphony Orchestra,
Marin Alsop, conductor

Deep Summer Music

Once Around

One Dancer, Many Dances

Track listing:
1. Deep Summer Music
Solo Symphony
2. I. Solo-solos
3. II. One dancer, many dances
4. III. Once around
5. IV. The cocktail party effect
Marimba Concerto
6. I. Allegro / Cross-rhythms / Allegro assai / Pass the plate
7. II. Slowly, in muted colors
8. III. Raucous / Full Turning / Constant Billy: Setting the beans / Finale
Review by David Hurwitz,
Libby Larsen deserves all of the attention she's getting. Her music has substance, wit, color, exuberance, and a decidedly characteristic sound comprised of freshly sprung rhythms, freely tonal harmony, and bright orchestration. This music gleams. Deep Summer Music finds an exact aural equivalent for its title. Pulsing strings and percussion support a broad violin cantilena, interrupted now and again by slow trumpet cadenzas. The second movement of Vaughan Williams' Pastoral Symphony comes immediately to mind conceptually, but the actual sound of the music is pure Larsen, including her signature use of bells and bell-like timbres.
The Solo Symphony's eclectic mix of styles and syntax never degenerates into mere potpourri. A "concerto for orchestra"-type first movement leads to a delightfully diverse dance suite with some jazzy touches, and then after a short interlude comes a wonderfully clever finale entitled "The cocktail party effect". Larsen pursues the principal theme through all manner of textural "diversions" and accompaniments of varying density. It's great fun.
The Marimba Concerto, subtitled "After Hampton", further demonstrates Larsen's ability to bring her intelligence to bear on a genuine musical problem -- with enlivening results. You simply can't pretend that the marimba, an instrument totally lacking in sustaining power and cantabile, can dominate an orchestra in the way that a melody instrument like the violin can, or that it is capable of providing the full mass of harmony and coloristic variety of a piano. Consequently, there are fewer obvious "tunes" here. Larsen's idiom takes on a more abrasive edge, and the solo embroiders, comments, and engages in a virtuosic interaction with the various sections of the orchestra.
In all three works, it's easy to hear a composer who's pragmatic in the best sense. Larsen writes music that knows exactly what it wants to be, and knows how to achieve its goals idiomatically and fluently. It sounds like a joy to play, especially as rendered here by Marin Alsop, the Colorado Symphony, and percussion soloist John Kinzie. Their virtuoso response brings these vivid scores to life with great impact, aided in no small degree by the finely detailed, well-balanced recording.
In today's contemporary music world, beset with a bewildering assortment of styles and compositional ideologies, it's easy to chide Larsen for a lack of obvious originality. Tovey said it best (as he so often did) when explaining the difference between the music of Handel and the numerous Baroque composers whose works this inveterate borrower adapted to his own use. Handel, he noted, was "a real composer," as those others were not. So is Libby Larsen. Her music's integrity will speak to any sympathetic listener far more forcefully than any obvious bid for originality. And in the final analysis, she achieves this quality too. [5/4/2001]