Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

WILLIAM HENRY FRY (1813 -1864)
Santa Claus, Christmas Symphony
Overture to Macbeth
Niagara Symphony
The Breaking Heart
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Tony Rowe
NAXOS (American Classics) 8.559057 [61.13]
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William Henry Fry was a nineteenth century American composer whose music betrays the influence of Liszt, but is nothing like so subtle and unassuming(!) In fact this is a fascinating and often hilarious disc, which Naxos deserve praise and admiration for producing. It's part of their American Classics series, and brings us the work of one of the very first significant US-born composers.

Fry's music is brightly coloured, spirited and naïve, rather like a child's picture book. It's certainly not without its attractions, though these are unfortunately balanced by many passages of incredible corniness or horrendous bombast. The Christmas Symphony is in reality a symphonic poem in a number of short sections. Few are particularly memorable, though the massed string glissandi for the snowstorm stick in the mind, as does the jocular bassoon solo for the appearance of Santa himself. There is originality and imagination here, but very little in the way of talent.

Macbeth has some powerful tuttis, but far too much repetition, and The Breaking Heart is overwhelmingly sentimental. Perhaps the most striking piece is the Niagara Symphony, with its rolls by eleven timpanists, after the manner of Berlioz, capturing the distant roar of the mighty waterfall.

Despite the reservations, this disc is worth hearing, particularly for anyone with an interest in American music. Fry shows the same mixture of serious artistic intent and blatant populism that you find in many other American composers from Ives to Bernstein and beyond, so in that sense alone the music is of importance. The Scottish National Orchestra plays bravely under Tony Rowe, and the recorded sound is highly acceptable, with good balance and clarity.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

See also review by Christopher Fifield

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