Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Leo SOWERBY (1895-1968)
Comes Autumn Time - Program Overture (1917) [4.41]
Prairie - Poem after Carl Sandburg (1929) [16.41]
Theme in Yellow - Poem after Carl Sandburg (1938) [20.03]
From the Northland - Impressions of Lake Superior Country (1923) [20.42]
Czech National SO/Paul Freeman
rec 21-24 Oct 1996, studios of Czech National Radio, Prague
ÇÉDILLE CDR 90000 033 [60.51]

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The Czech NSO seem to have carved for themselves a name as an orchestra prepared to try unfamiliar music. Their couple of Chadwick discs for Reference Recordings and Jose Serebrier are outstanding and it is good to see them receptive to such opportunities. I hope that there will be more.

Sowerby's music was known to me long before these two Çédille discs. A friend sent me a tape of Solti's Chicago performance of the overture Comes Autumn Time. Another sent me two major orchestral works. The Third Symphony is memorable for its sun-dappled Delianism counter-poised by vigorous warlike convulsions in strutting conflict. The Violin Concerto (1913 rev 1924) would have made quite a splash had it been taken up by Albert Sammons. Its tone in song and summer-time idylls would have suited his concert character. For a work with a reflective caste of mind the finale features an enlivening rhythmic impulse and, at the close, the big-hearted open skies confidence of Bax's 4th symphony. These two works must surely be the subject of later projects - perhaps from Naxos?

This Çédille disc and the reliably informative notes of Frank Crociata bring us to the music via fascinating paths. Who would have thought that Sowerby was in the top ten of American composers in the 1920s and 1930s. I did not know that Sowerby had the Prix de Rome and a residency in Rome alongside Howard Hanson in 1922-24. Hanson remained a Sowerby supporter and included Comes Autumn Time as the first of a series of American Music 78s in 1939.

I had taken it that Sowerby's four movement From the Northland was a Scandinavian piece. In fact its four movements were inspired by a Canadian car tour of the Lake Superior and Lake Huron area in 1919. Sowerby's mother was Canadian. How typical though that it should have been written in Italy. Northern inspirations such as Sibelius's Nightride and Sunrise, Peterson-Berger's Sunnanfard and Nystroem's Sinfonia del Mare were all written in Italy.

There are four movements. Forest Voices could so easily have been a Macdowell-style rhapsody. Sowerby's grip on the mood is much more personal. His tendency to languor is apparent from the hush and the woodwind interrogatories and answers. However the music rises to a rousing brass oration - generous of pace and peppery of tonality though 'nowt to frighten the horses.' Cascades is Debussian rhapsodic, rustling with birdcalls and harp and flute arpeggiation. The Burnt Rock Pool is a Walden-like soliloquy over a pool of a depth past plunge of plummet. The Shining Big-Sea Water has the billowing power of sun-embossed waves and an impersonal energy. Then come two Sandburg inspirations. Carl Sandburg's concern with folksy pastoral America appealed to Sowerby. In The Prairie Sowerby seems to describe the landscape in terms of both plush shimmering Delian atmosphere and invigorating cold snaps. Theme in Yellow (a very rare piece) is a feline Bolero with a jazzy lively pulse, the rhythmic liveliness of Baxian stab and cross cut, the sultry air of early Florent Schmitt and a meandering rhapsodic inclination which reminded me of Franz Waxman's music for The Bride of Frankenstein. Yes, I was surprised too.

Rob Barnett

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