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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Don GILLIS (1912-1978)
Music Inspired by the American Southwest

Symphony ‘X’ (‘The Big D’) [13.30]
Shindig [22.32]
Encore Concerto [17.52]
Symphony 5½ [14.36]
Alan Feinberg (piano)
Albany Symphony Orchestra/David Alan Miller
Rec. 2001. DDD
ALBANY TROY 391 [67.58]

 

Gillis's light classics are presented here as if in riposte to the English record industry's hectic production of light British classics. This music is not light in any creaking or clunking sense. His gift for presenting melody and rhythmically lively material is well recognised.

Symphony X was Gillis's last symphony - in fact the twelfth (if you count one for concert band). It is inspired by various aspects of the life and history of the city of Dallas. After All American City comes a light and touching elegy remembering Kennedy’s assassination. It is reminiscent of Butterworth's Shropshire Lad, of Danny Boy and of John Williams’ music for Saving Private Ryan. The Conventioneer third movement is slightly boozy and romantic, perhaps in evocation, say the notes, of the professional married man let loose miles from home. Cotton Bowl (the finale) and All American City are celebratory, circus-brash, stroppy, opinionated - occasionally reminding one of Gershwin, of Grofé and even of Malcolm Arnold, as in the United Nations overture.

Shindig is an eight part ballet lampooning or celebrating the B cowboy movie. All the usual stereotypes leap through accustomed hoops. There is the burlesque, the bar piano-player, the rhythm insistently like Shostakovich, some Khachaturyan with Copland along the way. ‘Black Jake’ certainly gets a look-in in episode 4 with romantic relief provided by the lissom heroine. In the last episode the attractive lyrical voice found in the Requiem for a Hero movement resurfaces.

The Encore Concerto is the second of Gillis's two piano concertos. It is played here by Alan Feinberg who keeps it, for the most part, straight but responding to the blues and cakewalk invitations readily proffered by Gillis and ending with the a gruff train whistle.

The famed Symphony 5½ is in four movements and was premiered by Max Fiedler with the Boston Pops in May 1947. Perpetual Emotion (the first movement) is brash with rolling brass, mercurially jazzy woodwind and plenty of pizzicato and train rhythms. The enigmatically entitled Spiritual? second movement is part-Balakirev and part ‘big city’ serenade. Scherzofrenia is a festival in which Mendelssohn’s fairies meet boozy Damon Runyon-style sidewalk characters. The Conclusion? movement also sports a question mark in the title. Railroad-Petrushka rhythms return alongside plantation melodies and intimations of Broadway. The woodwind strut their wild and woolly stuff.

With the exception of Symphony 5½ these are all world premiere recordings.

This is a great addition to the light music library of any collector with tastes running to Grofé, Carter Pann or Zez Confrey. Unbuttoned music which not only sends up the various targets but does so with affection and an ambiguous wink. Well done Albany.

Rob Barnett

 



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