Mennin, a pupil of Hanson and Bernard Rogers, described himself
as a 'renegade' in his twenties. His 45 minute First Symphony
predated his move to the Eastman where he wrote a Second and Third
Symphony. The latter, conducted by Mitropoulos, is coupled on
a 'Hall of Fame' CRI CD with Mennin's Piano Concerto (staggeringly
frenetic performance by John Ogdon) and the Martinon-conducted
auditioning the present disc I had just heard the Piston Third
Symphony of 1947 written three years before the Concertato.
It was a sheer joy to encounter the Mennin piece. The composer
was obviously closely engaged by the Melville novel. The work
is not designed as an episode by episode portrayal but as
a mood-picture of the impression made on Mennin by the novel.
It streams with bustling life; the closest parallel I can think
of being the Vaughan Williams Fourth Symphony. It is given a much
more vital reading than that on Delos.
two years before the Concertato comes the Fifth Symphony.
This is a work where I can see exactly what Walter Simmons means
when he relates Mennin to Rubbra whose Fourth and Sixth Symphonies
link to the Mennin work. After the peaceable kingdom of the Canto
comes the explosion and thud of the Allegro Tempestuoso
- again the Rubbra parallels are clear. Miller lays into this
work with a real vengeance - brilliantly done.
two movement Fantasia for String Orchestra is the
earliest work here. The Canzona is rather flat except for
a peak at 1.48 where a typically American string climax arises
in garments similar to those of Harris and Schuman. Its Toccata
is determined and defiant.
Sixth Symphony is in the usual three movements, the first
starting grave and rather grey before launching out on a wild
chevauchée like a violent cross between Rubbra's Fifth
Symphony and Vaughan Williams' Fourth. Another sombre Grave
provides the work's foundation. Then comes a rattlingly active
allegro vivace with some burred horn playing and busy convulsive
work superbly captured by Albany's engineers. Listen to the flame-chased
string writing at 1.15. Time and again Miller shows these readings
to be a special event. There is no suspicion of catalogue gap-filling
together with the CRI disc, stands as the best introduction to
the orchestral Mennin. By all means try the Concertato
on unsuspecting friends. This work, in its conciseness, tight
control and inventive fancy, represents the composer very strongly.
factually rich notes are by Walter Simmons who is, as ever, a
sympathetic advocate for Mennin.