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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Peter MENNIN (1923-1983)
Symphony No. 5 (1950) [21.16]
Symphony No. 6 (1953) [26.12]
Concertato - Moby Dick (1952) [10.36]
Fantasia for String Orchestra (1946) [9.04]
Albany Symphony Orchestra/David Alan Miller
rec. 1990s DDD
ALBANY TROY 260 [67.11]

Peter Mennin, a pupil of Hanson and Bernard Rogers, described himself as a 'renegade' in his twenties. His 45 minute First Symphony predated his move to the Eastman where he wrote a Second and Third Symphony. The latter, conducted by Mitropoulos, is coupled on a 'Hall of Fame' CRI CD with Mennin's Piano Concerto (staggeringly frenetic performance by John Ogdon) and the Martinon-conducted Seventh Symphony.

When auditioning the present disc I had just heard the Piston Third Symphony of 1947 written three years before the Concertato. It was a sheer joy to encounter the Mennin piece. The composer was obviously closely engaged by the Melville novel. The work is not designed as an episode by episode portrayal but as a mood-picture of the impression made on Mennin by the novel. It streams with bustling life; the closest parallel I can think of being the Vaughan Williams Fourth Symphony. It is given a much more vital reading than that on Delos.

From two years before the Concertato comes the Fifth Symphony. This is a work where I can see exactly what Walter Simmons means when he relates Mennin to Rubbra whose Fourth and Sixth Symphonies link to the Mennin work. After the peaceable kingdom of the Canto comes the explosion and thud of the Allegro Tempestuoso - again the Rubbra parallels are clear. Miller lays into this work with a real vengeance - brilliantly done.

The two movement Fantasia for String Orchestra is the earliest work here. The Canzona is rather flat except for a peak at 1.48 where a typically American string climax arises in garments similar to those of Harris and Schuman. Its Toccata is determined and defiant.

The Sixth Symphony is in the usual three movements, the first starting grave and rather grey before launching out on a wild chevauchée like a violent cross between Rubbra's Fifth Symphony and Vaughan Williams' Fourth. Another sombre Grave provides the work's foundation. Then comes a rattlingly active allegro vivace with some burred horn playing and busy convulsive work superbly captured by Albany's engineers. Listen to the flame-chased string writing at 1.15. Time and again Miller shows these readings to be a special event. There is no suspicion of catalogue gap-filling routine.

This, together with the CRI disc, stands as the best introduction to the orchestral Mennin. By all means try the Concertato on unsuspecting friends. This work, in its conciseness, tight control and inventive fancy, represents the composer very strongly.

The factually rich notes are by Walter Simmons who is, as ever, a sympathetic advocate for Mennin.

Rob Barnett



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