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George TEMPLETON STRONG (1856-1948)
Symphonic Poem: Ondine (1882-3; rev. 1939)
From a Notebook of Sketches (originally composed as piano duets in the early 1890s and orchestrated in the early 1940s):-
Suite No. 1
The Elves Blow the Horn The Cemetery – Sarabande of the Dead - In the Inn : The Night watch
Suite No. 2 “Athens”:- Youth of Athens
Evening Dance
Entering the Parthenon
Suite No. 3
Jack the Giant-Killer
The Dreams of Cinderella
Oriental Procession (ed. Adriano)
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Adriano
Recorded at Mosfilm Studios, Moscow, in March 2000 DDD
World premiere performance and recordings

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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.

Templeton Strong’s 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 InnNightwatch’ is a bombastic, boozy revel with quieter sections evoking the stillness outside.

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.

The pantomime-like 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 distance.

Entertaining programme music energetically performed.

Ian Lace

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