Elie Siegmeister was a New Yorker whose name is probably known (if at all)
to most listeners for his two orchestral suites: Ozark Set (1943)
and Western Suite (1945). I have heard tapes of his symphonies 3,
4 (premiered by Maazel) and 6 and the violin concerto; the latter pioneered
by Cho Liang Lin and many of these are in an argumentative avant-garde style.
Siegmeister's musical style is often dyspeptic and challenging. The most
immediately approachable piece on the CD is the American Sonata with
its explosively tumbling jazziness gambolling through territory to which
Lambert, Walton and Gershwin had already laid claim. There is also a totally
charming touch of Arthur Benjamin's Jamaican Rumba. The second movement
is plangently melancholy with more than a suggestion of Peter Warlock and
William Walton (middle movement of his under-estimated Sinfonia
Concertante). The joyous and ripely syncopated finale is decidedly
Stravinskian (Petrushka-era). A sweet Mediterranean semplice
(2:12) relieves the headlong rush. The sonata is not especially American
to my ears. It is however extremely attractive and well worth hearing.
The remainder of the works on this well-filled disc are challengingly atonal.
On This Ground has the piano protagonist wandering under lichen-strung
forest boughs amidst mild discords, battering cascades of notes
(Ariel) and clammy caves explored during a dank summer. Mr Henry's
Monday Night alternates a rip-roaring sprint with slower sections.
Theme and Variations inhabits a tough school and it is one which, to my ears,
yields very sparse rewards. The 4th sonata has a Petrushkan prelude,
a bluesy andante with a Celtic lilt and, to round off, a poundingly
chaotic allegro vivace. The fifth sonata's first movement suggests
very slow singing with the notes softened and diffused atonally. The anarchically
hammered finale reeks of the 1920s but this fast-driven storm is contrasted
with a slow dreamy bridge passage.
The insert is good although the central two pages were left blank in my copy
and I would guess that this will be put right in future printings.
This Naxos series continues to spill out bountifully every month. It promises
to be THE series of US classical music. When New World and Delos ran out
of stamina Naxos slipped naturally into the scene and are doing a job of
historical value. If that was all it might seem rather an ascetic exercise.
In fact it has already yielded some wondrous treasures, much enjoyment and
discovery after discovery.
My star marking reflects my reaction to all but the American Sonata.
The performances are, as far as I can tell, excellent as also is the recording