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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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Ned ROREM (b.1923)
Symphony #1 (1950) [22.11]
Symphony #2 (1956) [22.20]
Symphony #3 (1958) [19.02]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/José Serebrier
Recorded at The Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset, UK, 9 January 2003
Notes in English and Deutsch.
NAXOS 8.559149 [69.22]

Whatever "American" Style is, it is often alleged to have something to do with the experience of the great central plains of North America.* Most of the creators of it spent time in Paris studying with Nadia Boulanger and with the exception of Roy Harris many of them rarely travelled west of the Hudson River. By the time Ned Rorem got around to writing his three symphonies, "American" style could as easily be learned at the Leningrad Conservatory as at Stuttgart, Vienna, or London. The one place it couldn’t be learned was at the Juilliard school in New York City which was obsessed with turning out Schoenberg clones, but wouldn’t hire the real Schoenberg.

Whatever "American Style" is, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, George Chadwick, John Knowles Paine, Edward MacDowell, Charles Tomlinson Griffes, Charles Martin Loeffler, Leonard Bernstein, Phillip Glass, and Alan Hovhaness never utilised it. Apparently there are some echoes of it in Dvořák, Malcolm Arnold, Hindemith and Berwald, a little bit in Samuel Barber’s Symphony #1, and certainly a lot of it in these three symphonies by Ned Rorem.

Rorem’s works are certainly more songful and perhaps a little more interesting than some other works they resemble—symphonies by Walter Piston, George Antheil, and Roy Harris—perhaps not quite so interesting as the two great masterpieces of the genre, the William Schuman and the Aaron Copland Third Symphonies, which have yet to receive a recording that sounds as good as this one. Rorem’s music has a lyrical vocality to it, but he doesn’t allow a good tune to overwhelm his symphonic structure.

*R. D. Darrell says it is a "mixture of holiday minstrelsy and Sunday hymnody." But one would think Europe had these also to at least the same degree. I think it has more to do with the American musical patrons being rich Protestant farmers and businessmen, instead, as in Europe, of being aristocrats (or businessmen aping aristocrats) with at least some lingering sense of medieval church tradition. Artists quickly learn to flatter the taste of those paying the bills.

Paul Shoemaker

see also review by Rob Barnett



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