Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Walter PISTON (1894-1976)
Orchestral music

Symphony No. 4 (1951)
Capriccio for Harp and String Orchestra (1963)
Three New England Sketches (1959)
Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz
Recorded at Seattle Center Opera House, Seattle, WA, January 7th-8th, March 1st and May 20th 1991.
NAXOS 8.559162 [51.37]


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This is the first release in the Naxos American Classics venture into reissuing Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony's celebrated recordings for Delos. As a Naxos project, it is probably of equal import to their already under-way rehabilitation of Collins Classics English Song series, and one can only hope that it similarly brings much wider currency to some wonderful music and equally wonderful performances.

Piston's two violin concerti form the focus of one of the Naxos label's best and most important discs so far - the first concerto being a worthy rival to Barber's effort in the same genre. This disc has, as its centrepiece, the Fourth Symphony, which has been compared to such justifiably exalted works as Roy Harris's 3rd and William Schuman's 3rd in the pantheon of 20th century American symphonies. Despite the clichéed "academic" tag often applied to Piston's work, from my experience his music is accessible, memorable and well structured. The Fourth is a four movement piece which manages to sustain a truly symphonic, organic, overall sense of structure and growth while simultaneously paying homage to Beethoven and Brahms and the American jazz and folk traditions. Piston himself described the symphony as " melodic and expressive" and I cannot disagree. In terms of the quality of expression, its economy, its distilled nature, I don't think comparisons with Sibelius and Rubbra are out of the question, although Piston is definitely less of a "wilderness" composer than the former (and Roy Harris for that matter), his Italian ancestry perhaps asserting itself in this sense.

The Capriccio is a more neo-classical inspiration, written for the great Spanish harpist Zabaleta, a ten minute light and lyrical interlude between the more typical Piston inspirations which bookend the disc. The Three New England Sketches are both a complement and a contrast to the similarly inspired and named pieces by both Ives and Schuman. Whereas the latter in particular draws heavily on the William Billings/shape note tradition, Piston's influences are rather more diffuse and, I suppose, cosmopolitan. Seaside and Summer Evening definitely have an impressionistic (although typically taut) feeling but the concluding Mountains is musically just that, a strong, restrained but towering edifice.

All the music on this disc deserves the widest currency - if you like any of the great American symphonies (the aforementioned Harris and Schuman, plus Copland's 3rd, Barber's 1st etc.) you will love this CD. I probably should mention that the Serenata, included on the original Delos disc, is omitted, because this series within a series is exclusively dedicated to Schwarz's work with Seattle Symphony. I am not party to the future releases in the series but there is a disc of rare Copland and Harris ripe for reissue and a host of David Diamond's works (if you do not know his Rounds then you really should and the 3rd and 4th symphonies are also masterpieces!) which ought to be prime candidates for reissue (Delos's other Piston disc, Incredible Flutist etc., was also rather special!). Reviving this highly regarded recording was, however, an extremely appropriate start. Recommended without reservation.

Neil Horner

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