Delos Shows Ellen Taaffe Zwilich At Her Best

It is extremely unlikely I’ll hear any of these works in concert. After all, a recent study of 100 top orchestras revealed an ugly truth. Music by women — either living or dead — only accounted for five percent of their concert programming. Fortunately, we have recordings. 

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich is an important American composer. She was the first female composer to win a Pulitzer. But her real distinction lies in the quality of her body of her work. This release presents four works that show just how talented Zwilich is. And also what a slight that her music isn’t programmed regularly. 

Zuill Bailey perfoms her Cello Concerto, written in 2020. Bailey premiered the work and knows what he’s about. The concerto is a wonderfully expressive, modern piece. It has jazz-like passages, as well as melodies that the cello seems to sing. Bailey is on top of his game here, delivering an energetic performance. 

Another standout on this release is the “Peanuts Gallery.” It’s a piano concerto inspired by Charles Schutz’s comic strip. And Zwilich shows Vince Grimaldi doesn’t have a lock on the material. The work portrays the main characters, each with their own movement:  Schroeder, Linus, Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Lucy, Peppermint Patty and Marci). 

This is a work of rare good humor, with sly quotes and light-hearted orchestrations. I have a programming suggestion for orchestras.  Give Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” a rest and present “Peanuts Gallery” instead. It’s equally accessible, and perhaps even a little more relatable.

The Santa Rosa Symphony is directed by Francesco Lecce-Chong. This is their first commercial recording, and their playing is first-rate. I might not get to hear Zwilich in concert. But thanks to Delos, I have some of her finest works to enjoy again and again.   

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Cello Concerto and Other Works
Zuill Bailey, cello
Santa Rosa Symphony; Francesco Lecce-Chong
Delos DE 3596

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