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Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990) Orchestral Variations (1957) [12:46]
Luigi DALLAPICCOLA (1904-1975) Variazioni per Orchestra (1954) [13:37]
Elliott CARTER (b. 1908) Variations for Orchestra (1955) [23:41]
William SCHUMAN (1910-1992) arranged from Charles IVES (1874-1954) Variations on ‘America’ (1963) [6:45]
The Louisville Orchestra/Robert S. Whitney (1904-1986)
Recorded: 1954, 1956, 1957 and 1974, Louisville, Kentucky
Executive producer: Matthew Walters
Partial funding by National Endowment for the Arts.
world premiere recordings (apart from Ives/Schuman)
all mono

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Perhaps surprisingly Robert S. Whitney, long-time conductor of the Louisville Orchestra, was born in England in 1904. His birthplace is the Geordie city of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in North East England. His parents were American. He attended the Chicago Conservatory (1922-28). Frederick Stock and De Lamarter gave him a grounding in conducting at the Chicago Civic Orchestra. He also studied with Koussevitsky in 1940-41. He founded, conducted and directed the Louisville Orchestra from 1937 to 1967 - an extraordinary tenure. It was also extraordinary because of its dedication to the recording and performance of new music - though often of a conservative persuasion. The recordings ran from circa 1953 monophonic until it petered out in the late 1970s with stereo well and truly consolidated and had we but known it, the CD dynasty in the offing.

The present disc is the first issue in Matt Walters’ revival of the recordings into the modern market. It will also secure their future for future generations rather than being dependent on collections of vulnerable LPs dotted here and there among private and institutional collections.

For the first issue the unifying theme is the Variation Form. This is defined as melody altered by decoration, rhythmic change, change of mode, elision, omission etc. ‘Variation’ is as Paul Griffith has said essential to almost all music as repetition and change are usually in constant play at least so far as the Western traditions are concerned.

The four compositions date from the 1950s apart from the Schuman which is from 1963.

Copland’s Orchestral Variations are an arrangement of his Piano Variations of 1930 but with the arrangement made and launched in 1957. It is a piece that sails very close to serial technique in its intricate working of a seven note them. The 1950s saw a return by Copland to the quasi-serial techniques of the early 1930s. He left Manhattan in 1947 and took to the countryside. This was by no means a signal for Appalachian tenderness. Instead his music became akin to then-contemporary Stravinsky. This is apparent in these Variations. I would not want to overstate this because although this is uncompromisingly virile writing (and performance) superbly put across in this recording, the monumental brass gestures pick up echoes with the Third Symphony and with El Salon Mexico. The technicians did an excellent and listener-intimidating job with this recording; that it was made in 1958 is quite astonishing such is the power and clarity of the sound.

Dallapiccola is the only non-American ‘on the menu’. His 1954 Variations are much more extreme although the sound-world is more ethereal than the Copland. In this dissonant spidery web of music the composer uses the same tone row that he used for The Songs of Liberation and Annalibera’s Notebook for solo piano. Annalibera was the composer’s daughter. Not dissimilar, Carter’s music is amongst the most uncompromising written during the last century. His Variations were written for the Louisville Orchestra. A high priest of dissonant fantasy Carter’s Variations are a mercurial harum-scarum dream journey in which mountains and palaces fade or shatter - like Prospero’s "insubstantial pageant". Ives’ little Variations on ‘America’ were written by him in 1891 for organ. The tune will be known to British listener’s as God Save the Queen. It is treated here to Ives’ irreverence, jaunty nostalgia, absurd fantasy and bathos. Listen to the way he spins Chabrier and Massenet into the picture at 4:20. It’s all great fun and Schuman is a soul-mate of a collaborator.

Each set of variations is given a single track so there is no easy method of tracking down a particular variation within any one of these works.

The virtues of this disc are further enhanced by the composer’s own notes for each set of Variations. In the case of the Schuman/Ives it is Charles Ives’ note for the original that is reproduced in the booklet.

This is the first disc in the First Edition catalogue. It is out of step with the rest in mixing composers together and in not using composer portraits for the cover.

This fine disc is the first issue in Matt Walters’ revival of the recordings into the modern market. The unifying thread is the variation form read through dissonant modernity

Rob Barnett

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