Composer/conductor Dan Welcher now lives in Texas, but he was composer in residence with the Honolulu Symphony in the early 1990s. While there, he composed a 40-minute symphony, as well as the above-named work for narrator and orchestra, Haleakalii. This program was recorded at the time, and originally released on the Marco Polo label.
Welcher is a terrific orchestrator. The indigenous fable of how Maui snared the sun and thus caused the seasons to occur is a colorful tale, eliciting brilliant, cinemascopic scoring from the composer (incorporating the use of traditional Hawaiian instruments). His depiction of the angry sun spitting fire is hugely exciting in the naturalistic manner of Jon Leifs or the Strauss of Eine Alpensinfonie. The same sure hand is heard in Prairie Light. "Three Texas Watercolors of Georgia O'Keeffe": these three tone poems-generally corresponding to O'Keeffe's images of morning, noon, and nightresemble the open-space film music of 1940s Aaron Copland and even Ferde Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite, though Welcher writes in a more sophisticated language than Grofe. Finally, the Clarinet Concerto, written for this CD's soloist, draws on some jazz influences but retains overall the composer's mid-20th-century style. It, too, is expertly scored and filled with felicitous touches.
What Welcher lacks, in my view, is a knack for finding memorable or individual thematic material. For all the expertise and sharp response he displays to Ann McCutchan's text in Haleakalii, the work doesn't come near Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolfin melodic memorability (which, in my opinion, is the feature of Prokofiev's piece that draws listeners of all ages back, time and again). I presume Haleakalii was composed with young people in mind; Richard Chamberlain's hammy narration would suggest as much. Chamberlain gets pretty hard to take over several listenings. Unfortunately, he chooses to dramatize the text when the orchestra is doing the same thing: a touch of overkill.
Make no mistake, however: there is sensuous, interesting music on this disc, finely performed, especially by clarinetist Bill Jackson. The recording is spacious and well balanced. I just can't help feeling something is missing. I would be intrigued to hear where Dan Welcher has taken his incontestable orchestral skill since 1991.