Finding the Soul of Hartke

Stephen Hartke is one of those young composers deserving wider recognition. Raised in New York City and now teaching at USC, he boasts a hearty stylistic voice that nods in the direction of Stravinsky and other 20th century models as well as various folk idioms. But, as heard on this evocative recording of orchestral music, he pays no dues to specific compositional schools or isms, which could account for both his relative obscurity and his distinctive palette.

Violinist Michelle Makarski has been a long-standing, sympathetic Hartke interpreter (including the title track on her solo CD "Caoine" last year). Here, she brings a deeply felt and considered reading to his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, which was, in fact, written for her. It is a spirited and moody work, subtly driven by rhythmic insistence in the first movement and an elegiac dreaminess in the second, capped off with a tender reading of the Shetland Island fiddle tune "Auld Swaara."

The expressive terrain is more reflective and tempestuous in Hartke's Second Symphony, written in the aftermath of his father's death. The tonal language here is strained, from the ruefulness of the slow outer movements to the furtive twists and turns of the middle scherzo, which are lightened by the presence of steel drums. The Riverside Symphony, dedicated to the contemporary music cause, brings a requisite focus to the piece, revealing its dark corners and putting muscle behind its ruminations.


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