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Pilgrim’s Progress. Pioneers of American Classical Music
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990): Candid Overture (1956) [4’09"]
Florida Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by James Judd
Ferdé GROFÉ (1892-1972): Hollywood Suite: Production Number (1938) [2’21"]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Stromberg
Leroy ANDERSON (1908-1975): The Syncopated Clock (1946) [2’26"]
Richard Hayman and his Orchestra
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990): Danza de Jalisco (1959) [3’36"]
Nashville Chamber Orchestra conducted by Paul Gambill
Amy BEACH (1867-1944): Piano Concerto: Scherzo (1898-99) [5’57"]
Alan Feinberg (piano); Nashville Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Schemerhorn
Leo ORNSTEIN (1892? – 2002): A Morning in the Woods (1971) [6’20"]
Janice Weber (piano)
Charles Wakefield CADMAN (1881-1946): The Legend of the Canyon (1920) [4’07"]
Peter Zazofsky (violin); Paul Posnak (piano)
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981): Violin Concerto: Presto in moto perpetuoso (1940) [4’01"]
James Buswell (violin); Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop
John Philip SOUSA (1854-1932): Semper Fidelis (1888) [2’56"]
Royal Artillery Band conducted by Keith Brion
Michael TORKE (b. 1961): Rapture: Mallets (1998/2001) [6’24"]
Colin Currie (percussion); Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop
Ned ROREM (b. 1923): Bright Music: Fandango (1987) [3’51"]
The Fibonacci Sequence
Jerome MOROSS (1913-1983): Willie the Weeper: Sexy Willie (1948) [8’00"]
John DeHaan (tenor); Hot Springs Music Festival Chamber Chorus; Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Rosenberg
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937): Cuban Overture (1932) [10’44"]
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Judd
Recording dates and locations not specified
NAXOS 8.559200 [64’58"]

Through their American Classics series Naxos have been doing sterling work in bringing a great deal of American music, much of it little known, to a wider public. I take my hat off to them for being enterprising in their choice of repertoire (though that should surprise no one). Thus, although familiar fare by Barber, Bernstein and Copland has appeared the majority of issues in the series have featured music which is much less well known. Although the quality of repertoire has been uneven Naxos certainly merit full marks for being so adventurous.

The present disc is a sampler for the series. Even here the choice of music is wide and eclectic. In truth only the items by Barber, Bernstein, Gershwin and the jaunty Sousa march will be familiar to most collectors. The item by Copland may not be too familiar; it’s one of his Three Latin American Sketches, one of his less frequently heard orchestral works.

For the rest, the music lies a bit more off the beaten track. It’s nice to hear music by Grofé other than the ubiquitous Grand Canyon Suite. The chosen excerpt from his Hollywood Suite conjures up effortlessly the big band sound familiar from RKO Radio Pictures movies of the 1930s and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra play in splendidly unbuttoned style, especially the "lounge lizard" saxophones.

Partly on account of his longevity, the music of Leo Ornstein attracted some attention when the CD from which this piece is taken was released (along with at least one competitor on another label, I seem to recall) but I hadn’t caught up with his work until now. I’m bound to say that I wouldn’t want to pass judgement on the basis of one fairly short piece. A Morning in the Woods is pleasant enough, if a little rambling. However, those who like Romantic or Impressionist piano music may well be tempted to explore further on the strength of Janice Weber’s advocacy. Collectors should certainly be stimulated to investigate the music of Amy Beach by hearing the sparkling scherzo from her Piano Concerto. This is taken from a very fine disc coupling the concerto with her Gaelic Symphony, a CD which certainly merits hearing in full.

For me the only low point in the collection is the excerpt from Willie the Weeper by Jerome Moross. I’d come across his music before (a highly enjoyable collection on Koch International, including his Symphony No 1 and the ballet The Last Judgement) but I’m afraid that what we have here strikes me as being complete dross. It doesn’t help that the brief note gives us no real idea of what the work is about or what’s going on at the point where we join the score. However, the excerpt, written in what I can only describe as a quasi-blues style, seems to me to be pretty thin stuff.

You couldn’t level that accusation (I hope!) at the music of either Samuel Barber or Ned Rorem. The Barber excerpt is from his justly popular Violin Concerto and receives committed advocacy here from James Buswell and Marin Alsop. In an ideal world I think I’d have preferred the inclusion of one of the two preceding movements for the finale to the concerto has always struck me as being the least interesting part of the work. I also think that Naxos would have given enquiring collectors a better insight into the muse of Ned Rorem, a fastidious and original composer, had they included one of the songs from their excellent CD in which soprano Carole Farley is accompanied by Rorem himself. Be that as it may, the extract from The Fibonacci Sequence’s equally fine disc of Rorem’s chamber music is well worth hearing, especially the catchy waltz-like tune that lies at the heart of the movement.

The bookends for this anthology are two familiar, extrovert orchestral works by Bernstein and Gershwin in bright and breezy performances conducted by James Judd. Both are effective and enjoyable though I felt that the players of the Florida Philharmonic inflect the rhythms just a bit more naturally than do their New Zealand counterparts. (The FPO, of which Judd was Music Director, is now sadly defunct, having folded in 2002. What a shame that a city the size of Miami couldn’t sustain a symphony orchestra).

So, this is a varied and unusual sampler of the melting pot of American music. No reservations about the quality of any of the performances, nor about the recorded sound. Recommended to all collectors with an enquiring ear.

John Quinn

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