American orchestral music -
reviewed by DAVID WILKINS
'... one work - the Gunther Schuller Symphony - receives a truly first-class performance ...'
If you forsake the musical equivalents of interstate highways (taking
the turnpike from Charles Ives and cruise-controlling through to John Adams),
there are myriad other pleasures to be discovered on a 'from sea to
shining sea' journey through American music. This Vox compilation hardly
takes you to unexplored backwaters, but it is an interesting and rewarding
detour. Only one work -- the Gunther Schuller Symphony -- receives
a truly first-class performance and there are some bumpy rides in terms
of orchestral technique and constrained recorded sound along the way. But,
'heck' (as we might be forgiven for saying), that's all part
of the adventure.
The first disc begins with the tunefully attractive, harmless rather
than inspired, Suite that Virgil Thomson worked from his Louisiana
Story film score. Like much film music denuded of its images, there
is a tendency towards stop-start meandering but also any number of likeable
moments. This 1948 Suite strikes me as having less intrinsic musical
value than that from The Plough that Broke the Plains, but it gives
a fair summary of his musical language -- simple, direct, something
of a comfort-stop on the way to Copland's or Bernstein's more
memorable achievements. Thomson's importance to American music was
as much in his teaching and criticism as in his own compositions.
Ned Rorem (wonderfully scurrilous diarist as well as lyrically gifted
composer) numbered Thomson among his teachers and, like the older man, was
much influenced by his time and studies in Paris. His Symphony No 3
was premièred in 1959 by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra with
Leonard Bernstein (oft-times a riotous story-swapping and drinking companion
to Rorem) conducting. You can hear what Lenny would have liked about this
music : there's plenty of skill with orchestral colouring, much evidence
of the genuine melodic talent that is apparent again and again in his better-known
songs, a felicity with jazzy syncopation that recalls (but never achieves
the glamour of) Bernstein's own [listen -- CD1
track 5, 1:30-2:40]. In the central Andante, there is a beguiling cor-anglais
solo that is rather akin to the English Pastoral tradition with wind and
string filigrees that might suggest the film music of Richard Rodney Bennett.
The Utah Symphony Orchestra conducted by that oft-neglected champion of
American music-making, Maurice Abravanel attack the work with obvious dedication.
I think we can assume, though, that the NYPO première would have
found out even more of its poetry and its exuberance.
Copyright © 3 February 2002
David Wilkins, Eastbourne, Sussex, UK
CD INFORMATION - VOX CDX 5092
PURCHASE THIS DISC FROM AMAZON
PURCHASE THIS DISC FROM CROTCHET
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