Composer and water-colour artist,
George Templeton Strong was born in New York in May 1856 but spent the greater part of his life in Europe settling in Switzerland after a period of study in Germany. His music is strongly associated with the
Late Romantic tradition. Adriano, so often associated with this genre
of music, and film music, is an enthusiastic champion of his work. In
fact, as usual, Adriano has written his own full and scholarly programme
notes and has edited one of the pieces – the Oriental Procession from
Suite No. 3 of the Notebook of Sketches.
Symphonic Poem Ondine
is influenced by Liszt and Wagner with hints of Dvořák and Schumann.
Highly dramatic – nay melodramatic – it is scored for a normal sized
orchestra although the composer’s sonorities make the ensemble sound
much larger. The musical programme of Templeton Strong’s Ondine loosely conforms to the traditional story line
of Undine (Ondine). The opening section tells
of her peaceful early forest-life. (She had been a foundling, fostered
by a fisherman and his wife. As a child, she had thrown herself into
the water and had returned to the forest after living for sixteen years
as a water nymph.) By marrying a human being, she hopes to regain her
human soul. A prolonged clarinet solo expresses her playful child-like
nature. This is interrupted by the arrival of the knight Huldebrand.
Templeton Strong gives him an arrogant, strident brass motif. Indeed,
the composer grasps every opportunity to show off his precocious skills
as an excellent brass writer throughout this work. From thence the drama
moves forward using these basic themes, together with a sweeping love
theme to relate a story of jealousies, misunderstandings leading to
a tragic conclusion. Ondine sacrifices her Huldebrande
to a rival; but transformed into a water nymph again, she rises out
of a fountain during the wedding service to claim the knight only to
have him die in her arms. This symphonic poem is powerful and entertaining
enough and Adriano’s players relish its romance and drama but the strength
of its material and development is barely enough to sustain its length.
From a Notebook of Sketches originated as piano duets in the
early 1890s and orchestrated in the early 1940s These
orchestrations often involved considerable melodic and harmonic changes
reflecting “an old composer’s nostalgia and smiling detachment from
his early work …. Excerpts from the first and third suites, performed
by the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande,
conducted by Ernest Ansermet, were first broadcast in 1941.” A little
later, the Suite No. 1 was performed by the same artists but complete
versions of the other two suites were never performed so this recording
marks a complete world premiere performance.
Suite No. 1 opens
with an Eclogue suggesting a bucolic sunset twice interrupted by distant
(although somewhat too forward on this recording) mysterious horn calls.
Adriano suggests that Templeton Strong’s activities as a water colourist
may have inspired these pieces and the understated delicacy of this
opening nature picture might support this claim. There is something
Delian as well as impressionistic about this little piece. ‘The Elves
Sound the Horn’ is a delightful quicksilver evocation inspired by an
engraving of Gustav Doré. ‘The Cemetery – Sarabande of the Dead’ is
an effective eerie exercise in the macabre, not unlike Liszt’s Totentanz.
‘In the Inn – Nightwatch’
is a bombastic, boozy revel with quieter sections evoking the stillness
The title of Suite
No.2 is subtitled Athčnes
but not all these three pieces necessarily refer to Athens. ‘The Youth of Athens’, opening
movement was originally entitled Babbling and the orchestrations do
suggest the animated discussions of students with a more reflective
middle section. ‘Evening Dance’ is a charming intermezzo in a Nordic
style while the Passacaglia-like ‘Entering the Parthenon’ nods towards
Brahms in its solemnity.
Suite No. 3 is inspired by children’s stories. ‘Jack the Giant-Killer’
opens with horn calls and nature music evoking forest glades, and is
instructed to be played drowsily. A flute solo marks Jack’s awakening
(to a playful waltz) and fierce (but not too frightening) battle music
sees the Giant routed by our hero. ‘The Dreams of Cinderella’ has dissonances
added in the orchestrated version suggesting mysterious caressing but
‘cobweb’ dreams of Cinders. It is an interesting exercise in harmony
and orchestration. Templeton Strong’s final picture is a subtly coloured
and drawn ‘Oriental Procession’ with softer music than might normally
be associated with such a scenario, as if the procession is seen through
a veil.” An intimate feminine centre section is contrasted with more
assertive masculine material before the procession recedes into the
music energetically performed.