John Knowles Paine
Overture to Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’, Op.28
Shakespeare’s Tempest – Symphonic Poem, Op.31
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.23
Recorded 15 & 16 October 2012 in Ulster Hall, Belfast, UK
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Collectors who are curious about byways may already be familiar with the orchestral music of John Knowles Paine – 1839-1906, one of the “Boston Six” – courtesy of the New York Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta, recorded long enough ago for New World Records for the CDs themselves to now be difficult to find but there appear to be downloadable options. Mehta recorded Paine’s two symphonies and the Overture to As You Like It. With their first Paine volume for Naxos, JoAnn Falletta and the Ulster Orchestra add Shakespeare’s Tempest.
Shakespeare very much the theme then, the ‘As You Like It’ opener enjoying a wistful clarinet melody at the outset, then some delightful scene-setting, and finally a bustling allegro in which lyricism continues to play a part en route to an ebullient conclusion. All very enjoyable, a good introduction to Paine’s output, one of the pioneers of writing classical music in America while sticking firmly to the European tradition. This overture would pass for Robert Schumann. As for the 20-minute Shakespeare’s Tempest – featuring Prospero, Ariel, Miranda, Ferdinand and Caliban – Paine is fully into Romantic description with a theatrical touch, music that is ominous, restless, enchanted and expressive, with lashings of Liszt in the background ... and he knew a thing or two about writing symphonic poems.
Paine’s 40-minute First Symphony (the Second is even more expansive), its four movements being of roughly similar length, is a confident work, the opening Allegro con brio full of its promised energy, a drive sustained but without being too insistent, for Paine knew how to modulate arguments, here tempered by some beguiling pastoral woodwind writing. The scherzo follows, one with a light touch, immediately suggestive of Franz Berwald’s delicious way with such movements (such as in his wonderful Sinfonie singulière and the Symphony in E flat, each a masterpiece) and contrasted by a winsome trio. The slow movement is rather brooding, deep in thought if fidgety, in and out of a troubled reverie, a bit Berliozian, then, and offset by a propulsive and determined finale that sounds rather British, don’t you know, Sullivan-esque, and he wrote an ‘Irish’ Symphony.
All this selection of Paine’s music is from the 1870s, written by a skilled and communicative composer. Very well played and recorded, Falletta and her Irish troupe do these pieces proud, enough to confirm recent disappointment that she is stepping down as Principal Conductor of the Ulster Orchestra. It’s good news though that Paine’s Second Symphony is due to be recorded this March and hopefully JoAnn Falletta and her enterprising choices of repertoire will continue to be associated with Northern Ireland and Naxos.