John Robertson “Vallarta Suite” a holiday for ears

It turns out there were two composers who worked full-time in insurance. Their day jobs freed them to write the music they wanted to. But the music that American Charles Ives and Canadian John Robertson produced was very different, indeed.

Ives studied music and pushed against its academic restraints. Robertson is mostly self-taught and seems simply unconcerned with current trends. Robertson writes in a neo-classical style all his own. His works are not pastiches of past masters, nor are they especially ground-breaking.

The Vallarta Suite is a musical portrait of Puerto Vallarta, full of energy and orchestral color. Robertson’s 2004 work is instantly appealing, especially in the dance-inspired movements.

Even more energetic is Robertson’s symphony march, Strut In. It’s a march with something of an attitude. I’d recommend this to any orchestra looking for something to pep up the audience.

The 2014 Symphony No. 2 isn’t tied to a program or extra-musical theme. That, I think, makes it the most interesting of the three works. The symphony is a nicely-structured three-movement work.

Roberton’s harmonies sometimes hint at modality, adding a bit of spice to the music. His themes are carefully delineated and worked out in logical — if slightly non-traditional — fashions.

Anthony Armore and the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra deliver some fine performances. The ensemble has a warmth to it that resonates with the coziness of Robertson’s music.

John Robertson’s music has a slight outsider quality to it. Melodies don’t quite resolve “correctly,” harmonies move in highly individualistic ways. And yet it’s all accessible — even inviting — to the listener.

John Robertson: Vallarta Suite; Strut In; Symphony No. 2
Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra; Anthony Armore, conductor
Navona, NV6117

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