Strong's is an unfamiliar name to all but the most determined and all-inclusive
of collectors. The aficionado will know the name and indeed this symphony
from the Karl Krueger SPAMH LP. This may, I suppose, be reissued by Bridge
in due course but for now the present CD is the only game in town.
Strong's 'high noon' romantic Sintram symphony raises expectations
in its scale (almost an hour) and in its subtitle - 'The Struggle of Mankind
Against the Powers of Evil'. These ambitious goals are reflected in the first
movement in monastic contemplation and some passionate climaxes. Despite
the tunes being nowhere near as memorable the movement has parallels with
Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet. Some of the horn calls are Brucknerian.
The Langsam (II) has elements of Brucknerian languor but gives the
impression of being on nodding acquaintance with the world of potted palms
and grand marble hotel vestibules. The third movement is back to grand themes
- and gloomy ones - 'The Three Terrible Companions: Death, the Devil and
Insanity'. Brucknerian upsurges lead us into some positively Lisztian (or
Saint-Saens) demonic stuff - witchery and covens. The 'Victorious Struggle'
of the finale speaks in a language we know from Tchaikovsky's Hamlet
and Tempest and from Liszt's Hunnenschlacht. The performance
sometimes seems lumbering although that impression does not hang over the
adagio or the finale. The musical ideas are nowhere near as memorable as
Tchaikovsky's mainstream successes but anyone who likes the more obscure
tone poems of Tchaikovsky and Liszt will enjoy this.
The Hassler Chorale is a short work from nearly 40 years after the
symphony. It richly deserves to be programmed as an alternative to the Barber
Adagio. Its funereal pace does not close the door on considerable
beauty. It also reminded me a little of Josef Suk's Wenceslas Chorale.
All in all an attractive CD (good notes by the Ledins) whose low key beauties
are not to be looked down on. I note that this is the first instalment in
a complete series of Strong's orchestral works. I await later instalments
with the keenest curiosity.