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Fanfare for the Common Man
Lincoln Portrait *
Canticle of Freedom
An Outdoor Overture


American Creed
When Johnny Comes marching Home

* James Earl Jones (speaker)
Seattle SO and Chorale / Gerard Schwarz
DELOS DE 3140 [61.30]

The Fanfare is a work of lofty eminence written, we must not forget, by a composer ridiculed and villified during the McCarthy era and then drawn back into the 'establishment' fold in the 1960s. Schwarz gives an absolutely overwhelming reading, positive and proceeding, as it should, at the pace of hard-won and bloodied victory. The gong is superbly recorded.

The mood established, we pass over without a jarring note, into the Lincoln Portrait last heard by me in the Vanguard recording with Abravanel and Charlton Heston. Schwarz recreates the work amid grim victory and stormy wild vistas, tunes (often hymn-like) rising like mist from the landscape, perkily irreverent, unsubmissive.

The Canticle of Freedom is in Copland's populist vein written for relatively unsophisticated forces. While nowhere near as gauche as Harris's Folksong Symphony it has some of the garments of that work and of Hanson's Song of Democracy. The words are printed in full in the booklet. The bass drum 'crump' is solid and full of disruptive presence.

The Outdoor Overture is taken at a deliberate pace hotting up soon and cooling for that 'prairie' trumpet cantillation - such a long tune - a tune 'with legs'. The violin theme, at 4.38, is also notable. This celebration of youth in ebullient vigour can be counted in company with the Moeran Overture to a Masque and Sinfonietta. Schwarz gives a broad account not without 'whipcrack' attention.

Now a change of composer and a shift to Roy Harris, condemned in the 'fifties for his dedication of the Fifth Symphony to the people of the USSR.

American Creed is in two Whitman-esque slabs of music - Free to Dream; Free to Build - running just over and just under seven minutes. Dream has those Harris 'fingerprints': long string themes danced around with woodwind solos which here become more Apollonian than we might expect from knowing the symphonies. The sense is one of ascension, of liberation, of wings extended and of soaring into a benevolent unknown region. The Third Symphony's sentient and oratorical horn barks grip and grasp nobility. Freedom to Build ends in tolling and regally crunching horns. Overall, despite some impressive moments, this is not a work that convinces in its entirety.

The Overture takes as its ubiquitous theme a song that the composer's father sang as he and his young son went to the fields in the morning and returned exhausted at the end of the day. It is given a cracker of a performance by Schwarz and his Seattle orchestra. Group this with the Outdoor Overture and the more populist Lambert, Bax and Moeran works of the 1940s.

Definitely a disc worth seeking out. While some of the oddments at the periphery of the now aborted Seattle/Delos series are inconsequential (e.g. the Grofe/Copland pops disc) this is a different matter altogether.

Rob Barnett


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