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John POWELL (1882-1963)
Symphony in A major Virginia Symphony (1945 rev. 1951) [54.40]
Trad arr. Carmen DRAGON (1914-1984)
Shenandoah ([3.24]
Virginia Symphony/JoAnn Falletta
rec. 7-8 Sept 2001, Chrysler Hall, Norfolk, Virginia. DDD
ALBANY TROY589 [58.06]


'I believe thoroughly in the dignity and worth of American folk music', thus John Powell.

Powell remains a controversial figure. The issue is not with his music but his world view. He was an advocate of eugenics and was one of the instigators of the Anglo-Saxon Club of America dedicated to 'maintaining the quality and purpose of the Anglo-Saxon race.'

His 1919 Sonata Virginiaesque for violin and piano harks back to plantation negro days, picturesque and idealised from reality. Outside music his main interest was astronomy. He had no time for jazz.

His collection of Virginia folk tunes is reflected in the orchestral overture In Old Virginia (1921), Natchez on the Hill (1931) and A Set of Three. Moiseiwitsch introduced his hour long Sonata Teutonica to London in 1914. It has been recorded in a cut-down version by Roy Hamlin Johnson on Folkways.

The melodic material of this Brucknerian length Symphony is founded on Powell's field trips in the Virginia countryside during the 1930s. During these he collected tunes that date back well before the first Queen Elizabeth. These give a faintly 'olde worlde' feel even if they are cocooned in grand orchestrational technique. The style is sometimes Tchaikovskian, as in the first movement, and at others neo-classical à la Moeran Serenade or Sinfonietta. This is not the transcendental folksiness of Copland; it is much more English. The second movement has some magical haunting touches as in the cloaked sighing sentiment of 3.23. This music evinces a sweetness and emotional responsiveness; not a clod of atonality. There are some superb pianissimi such as that concluding the 15 minute adagio. This is an amiable and cheery work ending in a celebration of familiarly packaged late-romantic gestures.

The Carmen Dragon arrangement drips with stardust. harp decoration and baritonally well-heeled string tone; tender though.

This introduces us to a shadowy figure in U.S. musical annals. The music is not compelling but it is a curious and amiable experience for those prepared to accept that those with views we may find odious are capable of writing music that provides a pleasing distraction.

Rob Barnett


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