One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


AmazonUK   AmazonUS

George Frederick MCKAY (1899-1970)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1940) [26:01]
Suite on Sixteenth Century Hymn Tunes (1962) [20:32]
Sinfonietta No. 4 (1942) [17:46]
Song Over the Great Plains (1953) [13:59]
Brian Reagin, violin
Ludmilla Kovaleva, piano
National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/John McLaughlin Williams, conductor
Recorded 15-20 June and 29-31 October 2003 at the Large Concert Studio of the National Radio Company of Ukraine.
NAXOS 8.559225 [78:18]

George Frederick McKay was known as the dean of American Northwestern composers and served for many years on the faculty of the University of Washington at Seattle. By all accounts a beloved teacher and mentor, McKay’s commercial success as a composer was limited by his desire to work and perform mainly in his native area, only rarely venturing to larger musical capitals to have his works heard. A neo-romantic, McKay’s music fits comfortably into the realm of his more famous contemporaries such as Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland, although his sound is not as European as Barber’s nor is it as indebted to folk song as Copland.

In 1941 McKay entered his new violin concerto in a competition then newly established by Jascha Heifetz and the Carl Fischer Publishing House. Although the work did not win, it was favorably received by Heifetz and received an honorable mention. By the time he entered the competition, he was already a well-established and experienced composer, and one hearing of this sweeping work is all it takes to note his maturity and virtuosity. Devoid of show for its own sake, the concerto still makes sizeable demands on the player with the dual need for fleet fingers and with its biggish orchestration, a hefty romantic tone. Brian Reagin, concertmaster of the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra delivers a powerful and mature performance. His tone is warm and rich and he makes his way around the fingerboard with confident ease. His playing is certainly on a par with some of his big name colleagues, and one can hope to hear more of his solo playing soon. He is at one with the spirit of this music, and delivers an interpretation with integrity and conviction.

The Suite on Sixteenth Century Hymn tunes struck an instant chord with this Anglican listener for it clever and respectful use of some of our staple hymnody, and its skilled orchestration and clever melodic and harmonic variation. The Sinfonietta No. 4 of 1942 packs a great deal of rhythmic and harmonic interest in to a very compact work. Starting off with a brief but captivating opening movement, its ever-forward motion is a great musical pick-me up. The lengthier and more lyrical second movement is somewhat reminiscent of the great film scores of the thirties and forties, and has some lovely and serene moments. The work rounds off with an energetic and virtuosic finale.

Finally, the Song Over the Great Plains is a somewhat nostalgic look at the composer’s home in the American Northwest with a tale-telling protagonist in the person of the piano soloist. Ludmilla Kovaleva delivers an able and solid performance.

The National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine responds splendidly to its guest American conductor John McLaughlin Williams, who is completely and convincingly at one with this music. He creates a fine sound from the string sections and unlike many orchestras from this part of the world, the winds and brass play with utter sensitivity, fine solo sounds where applicable and with spot-on intonation and tone. How interesting it is that a fine American conductor recording first-rate American music has to travel to the other side of the globe to bring it to life.

The joy is that Naxos is willing and in fact happy to bring this kind of music to the world’s attention. What reeks is that it would probably take an act of Congress to get this exceptionally fine music played in an American concert hall. Such is the industry in this big land of ours, and we can thank our lucky stars that Klaus Heymann is the man of vision that he is. Long may he live!

First rate performances of fascinating and worthy compositions by a master composer whose work lies sadly unrecognized in our very midst. Add this one to your collection and be prepared for some real delights.

Kevin Sutton


see also review by John Leeman

George Frederick McKAY (1899-1970) Caricature Dance Suite (1924)From My Tahoe Window - Summer Moods and Patterns, Americanistic Etude (1924) An April Suite (1924) Dance Suite No. 2 (1938) Dancing in a Dream (1945) Excerpts from Five Songs for Soprano (1964) Every Flower That Ever Grew (1969) Suite for Viola and Piano (1948) William Logan, Logan Skelton, Sanford Margolis (piano) Joan Morris (mezzo-soprano) Mahoko Eguchi (viola) rec July 1999-Feb 2001, The Brookwood Studio, Ann Arbour, MI, USA DDD NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559143 [64.00] [RB]

George Frederick McKAY (1899-1970) From A Moonlit Ceremony (1945) Harbor Narrative (1934) Evocation Symphony "Symphony for Seattle" (1951) National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine - John McLaughlin Williams Naxos American Classics 8.559052 DDD [69:06]


McKay is a historic West Coast American composer, and full information can be found at

Our ancestry traces back to Great Britain; with the first McKay in America being an English Army Officer who fought with Burgoyne's outfit at Bennington and escaped back to Canada with the loyalists and Canadian troops he commanded. Captain Samuel McKay had been an advance scout for the campaign, and had been captured in previous actions (there is correspondence between him and George Washington in the Library of Congress here in the States, in regard to McKay's petition to be exchanged for an American prisoner). He later escaped and made it back to British lines.

Samuel was married to a noble French Colonial lady and his son became a French professor at Williams College in New York State. Hence the McKays were launched into the American scene.

This particular recording has been a long time in the process of production, actually starting before the McKay Orchestral CD, which has been very successful and has been played on wonderful radio stations here in the US and other countries. CBC in Toronto has done quite a few prime-time segments, and the Native American themes contained in the orchestra works have been heard on the same programs with Mozart and Beethoven, which is quite a revolutionary development. As I was saying, it took quite a long time to assemble the pieces done by William Bolcom because of his heavy schedule - he was writing and producing the opera A View From the Bridge which was premiered by the Chicago Lyric Opera, and will now have a run at the Met this year; he is head of the Music School at the University of Michigan, he and his wife Joan Morris do 30 concert dates per year, and he is always composing new works regularly performed by major orchestras.

Bolcom first studied composition with my father (G F McKay) at the University of Washington at a very young age, so this recording represents many things in terms of the progression of musical expression from the Northwest corner of America - along with being an important link between serious music and Jazz Age themes coming out of the West Coast environment.

There is some music contained in the recording bordering on the experimental, if viewed in the historical context in which it was composed, and Bolcom expressed to me in phone conversations that Dance Suite No. 2 was a fairly difficult piece to pull off as a pianist. My father would have enjoyed every minute of this experience, since he was very happy with everything he composed and was enamored of participatory musicianship, both in his teaching methods and in the professional arena, where he both conducted symphony orchestras, and was a professional player early in his life (violin and viola).

We have 70 orchestral pieces yet to record, so the McKay story has a long way to go, no to mention the cantatas, ballet music and a large number of organ works and several string quartets and many great band pieces.

Fred McKay
George Frederick McKay Estate
Edmonds, WA


I was reading through your review, and came across a mention of Bartok in relation to George Frederick McKay, and so goes this tale:

I was talking during a family gathering to Gerald Kechley, a fine University of Washington composer and professor and a student of McKay's who was a first-hand witness to McKay presenting Bartok at a concert-lecture in Seattle in the early 1940's---------the University of Washington, perhaps spurred on by McKay, had sought to offer a faculty position to Bartok, which he never took because of his terminal cancer-------------at any rate McKay being his usual jovial self asked Bartok "are you going to continue composing revolutionary music? Bartok, says Kechley, replied "My music is not revolutionary, it is evolutionary!" This story was not passed down in our family, so it was amusing to hear this during the 1990's when most people in Seattle had forgotten that Bartok had been here, or even that he knew where the place was.

There was a similar story about a McKay-Beecham encounter that was amusing but a little less stuffy, with the result that the McKay family made a pleasant acquaintance with Sir Thomas during his stay in Seattle, including a performance of an original modern work by George Frederick McKay with the Seattle Symphony. I discovered through research that Beecham had come to the University of Washington and conducted the student orchestra there as a community relations trip, to the delight of everyone involved.

Oh, and we did listen to a lot of Bartok 33's when I was growing up, so perhaps the comment was brotherly after all, and my Dad loved the modern and open themes in Bartok's works.

Hope this is not too trying, but these are kind of poignant stories that make up the fabric of the real world.


Fred McKay



Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

Eloquence recordings
All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Recordings of the Month

September 2022
Nikolai Medtner
Herbert Blomstedt
Tarrodi Four Elements
Secret Love Letters
Lisa Batiashvili

August 2022

Louis Caix d'Hervelois

orchestral songs



String Quartets

la folia



July 2022

John Luther Adams Houses of the Wind
John Luther Adams
Houses of the Wind

Horneman Alladin
Horneman Alladin

Stojowski piano concertos
Piano Concertos 1 & 2

Vaughan Williams on Brass

Yi Lin Jiang - Dualis I



Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.