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Adolphus HAILSTORK (b.1941)
Symphony No. 3: (i) Vivace [12:00] (ii) Moderato [12:04]; (iii) Scherzo [4:45] (iv) Finale: Moderato [11:55]
Symphony No. 2 (1999): (i) Allegro [8:00]; (ii) Grave [10:59]; Allegro con brio [4:43]; (iv) Adagio – Allegro [13:05]
Grand Rapids Symphony/David Lockington
rec. De Vos performance Hall, Michigan, 5 November 2002 (No. 2); 23 November 2003 (No. 3). DDD
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559295 [77:32]



Adolphus Hailstork was a name previously unfamiliar to me. I volunteered to review the disc partly out of curiosity and also because, in my experience, the Naxos American Classics series hasn’t yet produced a dud. And that hasn’t changed because these two symphonies, the product of the last decade or so, are certainly worth a place in the catalogue. Within the confines of conventional structures and harmonies – which has the benefit of making the music immediately approachable – Hailstork manages to write symphonies that appeal without being trivial, rather as George Lloyd did before him on the other side of the Atlantic. Born in Rochester, New York he studied composition in Michigan and lists Nadia Boulanger and David Diamond amongst his teachers. Since 1977 he has held academic posts in Virginia.
 
The Third Symphony is given before the second, presumably because it is considerably lighter in feeling. To quote the composer, a catchy trumpet tune is used “as the point of departure”. This spawns some of the later material without being as all-encompassing as the trumpet solo which opens Schmidt’s Fourth Symphony. The movement is marked Vivace and is notable later on for imaginative use of percussion, including the marimba. The movement which follows feels slow but is actually marked Moderato, and it is a gem. This is song-like, deeply felt and contains some wonderful string writing. A scherzo follows attacca and percussion are once again prominent, supporting the complex rhythmic material. A central section is no trio but blues-derived. The finale is by turns angular, reflective and then joyous as the trumpet theme returns and is amplified to provide a satisfying conclusion to a most attractive work.
 
The Second Symphony is a tougher nut to crack but equally rewarding. It was partly inspired by a visit to Ghana where the composer saw the dungeons in which slaves were held before being shipped to America. The composer wrote it whilst reflecting on the struggle against slavery but it is not overtly programmatic. The work is structurally similar to the third symphony – four movements with the slow movement second – but there is also a slow introduction to the finale beginning with a notable and beautifully rendered clarinet solo. The opening Allegro is initially frightening – the brass positively screams over initially passive strings – and it then builds up considerable momentum. The second movement is elegiac, a brooding cor anglais solo framing some darkly powerful music which is certainly evocative of dungeons. The dance-like third movement offers some light relief but not to the exclusion of a feeling of struggle. That feeling is ultimately only overcome at the very end of the finale – an optimistic but hardly jubilant close.
 
The Grand Rapids Symphony hails from Michigan and their conductor David Lockington from Britain although he has been resident in the USA in 1978. They commissioned the Third Symphony and have championed the music of this composer. Clearly a fine orchestra, their playing is agile and clean, and Lockington’s direction of both works is lucid.
 
The recorded sound is rather good and serves the music well. Liner notes are uncredited and on the brief side. The space saved is given over to listing all the performing musicians, quite a few of whom are designated “supplemental”, emphasising the fairly large forces involved. 
 
This is a fine addition to the American Classics series. These works push back no boundaries but support the notion that the symphony may yet be alive and well.
 
Patrick C Waller
 
Naxos American Classics page

 

 

 


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