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George Whitefield CHADWICK (1854-1931)
Symphony No. 2 in B flat, Op. 21 (1886) [35’37]; Symphonic Sketches (1895-1904) [30’10].
National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/Theodore Kuchar.
Rec. Grand Concert Studio of the National Radio Company of Ukraine in Kiev on December 17th-21st, 2003. DDD
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559213 [65’47]

 


The music of George Whitefield Chadwick needs more exposure. Either of these works would surely be well-received in the concert hall. Massachusetts-born, Leipzig-trained, Chadwick was director of the New England Conservatory from 1897. As Naxos’s notes put it, ‘Chadwick was undoubtedly America’s greatest symphonist between the Civil War and the 1920s’.

The Second Symphony had a three-year gestation period; the Scherzo was performed first as an independent entity. Taken as a four-movement whole - scherzo placed second - this is a highly agreeable, well-constructed work. A lonely solo horn gives out a ‘motto’ theme. The orchestral playing thereafter is very disciplined, yet projects the overall open-air feel of the music but beware a certain shrillness to the violins in their upper register. And if you think the first movement is ‘pleasant’, wait until you hear the second! Mendelssohn knocks on the door of this Scherzo, yet the expression is all States-side - try the tune around 4’35. The suave and, yes, slinky ‘Largo e maestoso’ contains more than hints of Dvořák with the influence of Tchaikovsky making itself known later on. The finale has a nice and easy flow and a real sense of space. This is confident writing; craft is very much in evidence here.

The Symphonic Sketches is a set of four ‘impressions’: Jubilee; Noël; Hobgoblin; A Vogrom Ballad. Interesting that the opening of Jubilee clearly invokes the spirit of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, although there is a distinct American twang to certain Negro-tinged parts. Accents in this performance are nicely pointed and there is a sense of the joyous, not least in the headlong coda.

The cor anglais melody over a bed of strings of ‘Noël’ - inspired by the Christmas manger scene; Chadwick’s second son was also called Noel - is pure magic. Kuchar and his forces give a very affectionate account. A special word of praise should go to the solo violinist’s efforts.

Mendelssohn is again in evidence for the ‘Hobgoblin’ Scherzo, an active movement fascinating in its very unpredictability ... and there is a great thigh-slapping tune at around 1’45! This is well played, if not with the complete sense of abandon it deserves. Perhaps, though, the finale is the most interesting movement as it is here that Chadwick takes real, but always playful, risks with his material. This, surely, must be a gas to play.

Rewarding listening, then, and works that will surely give great pleasure. More, please.

Colin Clarke

 



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