Concerto for Orchestra No.7, Op.116
Symphony No.15, Op.199 (Silver Pilgrimage)
Audrey Nassaman (soprano)
Elizabeth Johnson (contralto)
Thomas East (tenor)
Richard Dales (baritone)
University of Louisville Choir
Robert S. Whitney
Recorded 1954, 1961 & 1965
Fantasie di Ogni Giorno
Piano Concerto No.3
Notturno di Canti e Balli
Benjamin Owen (piano)
Robert S. Whitney Recorded 1954, 1960 & 1966
Marion Gibson (oboe)
Robert S. Whitney
Sidney Harth Recorded 1953, 1959, 1966 & 1980
Robert S. Whitney
Recorded 1956, 1965, 1974 & 1975
Feria Magica Overture
Robert S. Whitney
Recorded 1954, 1956, 1965 & 1967
Erosion: The Origin of the Amazon Rivera
Dawn in a Tropical Forest
Bachianas Brasileiras No.4
Robert S. Whitney
Recorded 1952, 1954, 1969 & 1977
British Modern, Volume One
Discourse for Orchestra
Improvisation for Violin and Orchestra, Op.89
Concerto for Two Violins and String Orchestra, Op.77
Concerto for Trumpet, Strings and Percussion
Sidney Harth (violin)
Paul Kling & Peter McHugh (violins)
Leon Rapier (trumpet)
Robert S. Whitney
Recorded 1955, 1957, 1969 & 1973
Français Moderne, Volume One
Prélude pour Aglavaine et Sélysette
La Ballade de la Geôle de Reading
Robert S. Whitney
Recorded 1954, 1961, 1969, 1970 & 1973
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: June 2006
CD No: As above
Duration: As above
A further batch from Louisville First Edition – restoring to circulation more of the recordings made by this enterprising outfit from the 1950s to the 1980s (those interested in the background to the Louisville Orchestra’s prolific recording schedule and the reissue project should see the previous article (link below).
FECD-0006 focuses on music by Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000), the American composer of Armenian and Scottish descent whose 67 symphonies make him the most prolific exponent of the genre since Haydn. No.15 (1963) is included here: a thoughtful evocation of Japanese and Indian procedures that effects its East-West fusion less quirkily but also less characterfully than, say, certain Henry Cowell works from the period. Although a more overt showpiece, the Concerto for Orchestra No.7 (1953) engages more fully – its deftly-worked initial movements preceding a ‘Double Fugue’ (Hovhaness excelled in fugal writing) that builds to a powerful but never bombastic apotheosis. Yet it is the setting of the “Magnificat” (1957) that most impresses: Hovhaness brings the full range of his compositional traits to bear on this typically personal setting – with elements as diverse as Byzantine chant and aleatoric writing integrated into the choral component, while the orchestration finds the composer athis freshest and most imaginative. Both performance and recording are up with Louisville’s best, and this is certainly one work from Hovhaness’s vast output that deserves to find posthumous favour.
FECD-0010 collects the Louisville recordings of Walter Piston (1894-1976), a mainstay of mid-20th-century American music who, like his contemporary Roy Harris, is due for reassessment. Compact in form and lucid in expression, the Serenata (1957) is an attractive example of his mature idiom, while the three symphonies (1956, 1960 and 1965 respectively) have an undemonstrative mastery that time has not dulled. Nor are they the academic exercises one of Piston’s pedagogical standing might have been expected to produce. Each of the first movements subtly modifies its sonata design to imply appreciably greater weight and density, while the slow movements have a contemplative depth (with, in the case of No.8, demonstrably tragic undertones) made more immediate by the Classical restraint of their conception. The finales do not so much resolve expressive conflicts as overwhelm them with rhythmic energy (perhaps the only real link between Piston and Malcolm Arnold!), but their rounding-off of the symphonic process is unfailing. Incisively played, the Louisville accounts confirm these works as music made for the orchestra, and this disc as the pick of those under consideration.
FECD-0016 gathers together four works giving a decent overview of nearly a decade in the abundant output of Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959). Both Erosion (1950) and Dawn in a Tropical Forest (1953) were Louisville commissions, and the orchestra pitches into these heady if overbearing pieces – the first a tone poem of Amazonian splendour, the second an overture awash with tropical imagery – with an enthusiasm that more than compensates for shortcomings in ensemble. Danses Africaines (1953) is a ‘suite picturesque’ in a similar vein to works employing indigenous music (and percussion!) by such composers as Milhaud and Copland, and gives the lie to any accusation that Villa-Lobos could not come up with distinctive or memorable melodies – self-evident amid all the gaudily colourful orchestration. Yet it is the ‘Preludio’ from Bachianas Brasileiras No.4 (1945) that makes the strongest impression: a synthesis of chorale-prelude and scenic nocturne evincing great emotional strength in its underlyingserenity, luminously played here. Shorter and slighter in all respects, the remaining movements have a typically offbeat charm and élan that brings the best out of this always-enterprising orchestra.
FECD-0018 similarly focuses on later music by Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959), whose American years were marked by fluctuating personal fortunes but also a clutch of significant commissions. Both the rhapsodically amiable Intermezzo (1950) and Estampes (1958) were written for Louisville – the latter piece being the last of several orchestral triptychs that followed in the wake of the Sixth Symphony, and featuring a central Adagio suffused with the nostalgic recollection of a composer long separated from his homeland. The Oboe Concerto (1955) places such wistful traits within a framework that harks back to the robust neo-classicism of Martinů’s inter-war period, replete with a lightly-worn virtuosity to which Marion Gibson does full justice. The Fifth Symphony (1946) is an oblique and ambivalent piece difficult to bring off. If the playing falls short of real distinction, Robert Whitney brings a cohesiveness that eludes most later accounts – whether the quixotic mood-changes of the first movement, the teasing elusiveness of the intermezzo, or tentative affirmation of the finale. This first recording (from 1953, Karel Ančerl’s for Supraphon followed in March 1955) remains among the best.
FECD-0036 is devoted to the music of Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973), a currently neglected figure whose symphonies and various ‘semi-operas’ are but facets of an extensive overall output. Of the two Louisville commissions here, the Third Piano Concerto (1948) – nimbly dispatched by Benjamin Owen – has a bracing astringency in line with the thinking of his Italian contemporaries, or the earlier music of Petrassi and Dallapiccola. Malipiero’s wayward but often distinctive talent is more evident in Fantasie di Ogni Giorno (1953), a free fantasia whose loose but rarely unfocused succession of ideas aptly reflects its origin as a musical diary – written to offset the urge to pen a tenth symphony (on which point the composer failed by one, writing 11 such works). Best of all is Notturno di Canti a Balli (1957), a cycle of orchestral ‘songs without words’ that embodies aspects of Malipiero’s native Venice – giving full vent to his personal amalgam of compositional means, as well as to his appealingly luminous orchestration. Lacking the charisma of Respighi or the rigour of Casella, Malipiero may yet prove a more substantial composer than either – and Whitney’s highly capable performances encourage one to explore further.
FECD-0039 documents the Louisville’s relationship with Carlos Surinach (1915-1997), the Spanish composer who enjoyed a high-profile American career throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Sinfonietta Flamenca (1950) is no more or less than its title implies, while Feria Magica Overture (1956) is an inventive potpourri that could still find favour as a concert-opener (should these not cease to exist!). The latter two works find Surinach pushing the stylistic and expressive boundaries of his idiom that much further, and if Symphonic Variations (1962) lacks the memorability with which to balance its formal ingenuity and balance between extremes of motion and dynamics, then Melorhythmic Dramas (1966) is a sequence of distinct yet related moods that adds up to an abstract drama of no mean cogency. Those who wonder where the music of Turina and earlier Falla might have been headed will enjoy encountering Surinach, whose penchant for a high-energy virtuosity does not preclude more understated qualities. Persuasive readings, and a reminder that an earlier generation of composers managed to be accessible without dumbing-down rather better than have many of their successors.
FECD-1904 is the first volume of “British Modern” – collating works by four composers born 30 years apart. Most valuable is the chance to hear Discourse for Orchestra – one of the most concentrated and imaginative later works by Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975) – in its original 1957 incarnation, finely tailored for Louisville and comparably well-realised here. Improvisation (1955) by Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986) is a one-movement violin concerto whose serenity is offset by an anxiety typical of thisunderrated figure, and persuasively played by Sidney Harth (though the orchestral contribution might well have benefited from one or two retakes). The Two-Violin Concerto (1962) by Sir Malcolm Arnold (born 1921) is among the most durable of his contributions to the genre – above all, in the (intentionally?)Bachian rumination of its central Andantino – with Paul Kling and Peter McHugh doing justice to a work that bears Menuhin’s imprimatur. Nor is Leon Rapier fazed by the demands of the Trumpet Concerto (1958) by John Addison (1920-1998), a showpiece with substance in an appealingly Hindemithian vein.Even today, trumpeters are not so endowed with concertos that they can afford to ignore this one.
FECD-1906 is similarly the first volume of “Français Moderne” – focussing on the music of two virtual contemporaries. Arthur Honegger (1892-1955) is represented by pieces at either end of his career: Prélude pour Aglavaine et Sélysette (1917) distills Maeterlinck’s play in a thoughtful synthesis of late Debussy with middle-period (Festin de l’araignée) Roussel, while the trenchant Baroque stylisations of Suite archaique (1951) have the undeniable feeling of a composer wearied by experience. Of the three works by Jacques Ibert (1890-1962), La Ballade de la Geôle de Reading (1921) is the most substantial – a fine evocation (never depiction) of Oscar Wilde’s poem in three contrasting sections, and of a sustained intensity such as its creator never again equalled. By the time of his Louisville commissions, Ibert was more the sophisticated entertainer – intent on avoiding deeper emotions, but both Louisville Concerto (1953) and the unfailingly virtuoso Bacchanale (1958) find room for poetic asides amid the energy elsewhere. Both pieces have received more high-impact recordings (those by Louis Frémaux from the mid-1970s are still the benchmark), but the present performances are never less than committed.
Re-mastering, unadorned but truthful, and annotations – judiciously edited from both original and more recent sources – continue the high standards of this series so far. Further issues are now available and others planned, which can only be to the good of the collector – and of the estimable institution that is First Edition.