Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

John Alden CARPENTER (1876-1951)
Adventures in a Perambulator (1914) [26.51]
Symphony No. 1 (1940) [19.27]
Symphony No. 2 (1942, rev 1947) [19.08]
National SO of the Ukraine/John McLaughlin Williams
rec 10-16 Dec 1999, Kiev, Ukraine
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The world is not short of composers who set Whitman or were inspired by him. Name another composer, apart from Delius, who turned to Sea Drift for inspiration? John Alden Carpenter wrote an orchestral piece inspired by the poem. He is also the composer of 'Twenties trendy ballets Krazy Kat (1921) and Skyscrapers (1923-4). His suite of sophisticated light music: Adventures in a Perambulator, forms the centre-piece of this latest disc in the munificent Naxos American Classics series. It suggests a composer with a Gallic sensibility. In it delicacy and resilience is mixed with a thoroughly stocked imagination. The suite would manage quite contentedly without its 'story' which has been supplied by the composer. Carpenter's highly detailed plotline note is printed in full. Its original and engaging tone compares well with James Agee's prose poem forming part of the text to that towering masterpiece of the American heritage, Barber's Knoxville. Try managing without the note if you can and see what you make of the suite. Ravel, Rimsky, Strauss and other inventive colourists are evidently Carpenter's heroes. The most striking movement is The Lake which could easily partner Goossens' By the Tarn or Vaughan Williams' much later Prelude to The 49th Parallel. Carpenter' consummate music-box charm is on display in Dreams in which he stands well clear of hyper-romanticism - always leaving his textures uncluttered and airy. He avoids the twee - a hazard which is gleefully embraced by the cover picture for the CD.

Carpenter prided himself on the peaceful nature of the First Symphony. Copland ticks and tricks dance in and out of focus as in 00.47 in the Moderato first movement of the Second Symphony. The composer is not one for grieving rigour or furious protest though there is anger in the clamorous opening bars of the 1947 symphony. In both symphonies and especially the First we hear a composer in the Gallic-American school of Loeffler, Sowerby, Edward Burlinghame Hill and, in more modern times, Ned Rorem. These symphonies plumb no giddy emotional depths but they have the buoyant delicacy of Moeran's Sinfonietta and the Gallic-Hispanic sizzle of Ravel. Provided you set your expectation sights correctly you will find new friends here.

Recording, performances and documentation are each admirable. The conductor is to be watched for the future. It would be a pity if he were to be lost to Naxos's pioneering series however we must not be surprised if his name is soon linked to the likes of the Dallas or Minnesota orchestras. I see that he has already recorded Henry Hadley's Fourth Symphony for a later Naxos disc. He does not lack adventurous and risk-taking spirit. As a violinist he has championed such utterly unfashionable repertoire as the Violin Concertos by Coleridge Taylor (1998 at Harvard), the Bax (Boston) and the Jongen (Longwood).

A disc well worth adding to your collection - not as a gap filler, which it certainly is, but as an example of one of the most polished and imaginative talents at work in 1940s America.

Rob Barnett

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