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Walter PISTON (1894-1976)
Symphony No. 2 (1943)
Symphony No. 6 (1955)
Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz
Recorded Seattle Centre Opera House, Seattle, November 1988 (Symphony No. 2) and December 1989 (Symphony No. 6)
NAXOS 8.559161 [50.56]

Originally released on Delos this coupling now reappears over a decade later in Naxos’s American Classics series.

Composed in 1943 the Second Symphony’s Moderato opening movement is full of freshness and open-air freedoms. The intense string figure that unveils at its opening soon gives way to animation and dancing vigour and an alternate ease and tension soon develops, one that recurs throughout. The culmination is the canonic brass chorale that ends the movement in solemn reflection. The slow movement is certainly affecting, with its winding clarinet and flute solos, but never seeks solace in overt melancholy and indeed searches momentarily for blues tinged textures whilst the brief finale wraps things up with terpsichorean dynamism a-plenty.

The Sixth Symphony was composed to celebrate the 75th season of the Boston Symphony. It was first performed – and recorded - by the orchestra under Charles Munch. Here the internal contrasts that Piston promoted in the Second reappear – between the craggy determinism of the opening of the symphony and its contrastive rather beautiful impressionism (appropriately so of course given the musical leanings of the orchestra). Such cogent and concentrated painting itself collides with the fizzing rhythmic high jinks of the super-fast Scherzo (Leggerissimo Vivace – and that’s no mistake) and the longest of the four movements, the seamless, superb adagio, with its solo cello cantilena and unimpeachable and affecting logic. The finale is brash and brassy and four minutes worth of virtuoso energy.

The Seattle Symphony under Schwarz wear Boston’s mantle in the Sixth with no little distinction. The bold animation of the performances and the idiomatic freshness of the orchestral solos are matched by the warmth of the recorded sound. This was a highly distinguished release back in 1990 and now over a decade later, in its new incarnation, its merit burns just as brightly.

Jonathan Woolf


see also review by Lance Nixon



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