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Morton GOULD (1913-1996)
Jekyll and Hyde Variations (1957) [21.20]
Fall River Legend (complete ballet) (1948) [52.28]
James F Neal (narrator)
Nashville Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Schermerhorn
Recorded at Ingram Hall, Nashville, December 2004
NAXOS 8.559242 [73.48]

Morton Gould fared best when concise. Symphonically he was somewhat unconvincing but when dealing with taut structures he was capable of considerable refinement and tangible nuance.

The Jekyll and Hyde Variations were premiered by Mitropoulos, who’d commissioned them, in 1957. If they show a deferment to the Schoenbergian model then one can also note that Gould was never able entirely to suppress his gift and such moments of beauty as there are in the score owe everything to his inherent broadmindedness. There is a theme and thirteen variations, lasting a good twenty-one minutes in this performance under the late Kenneth Schermerhorn, one of whose last recordings this must have been. Timbrally Gould is alert to texture and refinement, to colouristic opportunities. So the clarinet dominates the second variation and the third is generously lyric. String vigour is answered by communal chatter in the fourth and the expressionist moments of the fifth clarify into more overt impressionist lyricism. So it goes, with darker models and lighter ones coalescing throughout. Those darker moments are exemplified by the grotesque dance of the eighth, the snarling brass of the twelfth, the fractious brass and percussion outbursts of the seventh. Equally there is the quiescent, unresolved unease of the last and the genuinely compact but attractive colours Gould evokes throughout.

The companion work Fall River Legend is much better known, albeit usually in the shape of the concert suite (such as in Howard Hanson’s wonderful old recording). Here the Lizzie Borden-based scenario is enacted in full ballet guise. It’s a much more amenable score stylistically than its disc companion. It includes the narration in the Prologue (James F Neal) and covers a great deal of timbral and colouristic ground, from the piano-laced aesthetics of the Waltzes, the warm coursing trumpet of the Elegy and plenty of tense music depicting the psycho-drama enacted in the story-line. There’s a sinister little lullaby for instance to go alongside the diaphanous, refined scoring of the Serenade and mounting string tension with the religiose and hymnal buffeted by a swirling string melos. The influence of Copland is apparent (I sense it most overtly in the brassy Church Social) but also some impressionist fingerprints that so atmospherically point the spectral delicacy of the flute – so powerful and compact – in the Cotillion Coda. The tolling bells and drum roll at the end may be an alternative historical construct - Borden famously escaped the gallows - but the internal logic of the ballet has its own perfect symmetry. It’s a splendid score and how pleasurable to hear it in full, not least under the sympathetic direction of Schermerhorn and his Nashville forces.

The contrast between the two scores adds its own dimension and allows us to see Gould in greater perspective than he is generally allowed. With good notes and a gimmick-free recording this is a more than handy addition to the catalogue.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Patrick Gary



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