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Louis COERNE (1870-1922) Excalibur op. 180 (1921) [13:13]
Edward Burlingame HILL (1872-1960) Stevensoniana Suite No.1 Op. 24 (1916-17) [21:09]
Horatio PARKER (1863-1919) A Northern Ballad Op. 46 (1899) [14:10]
John Alden CARPENTER (1876-1951) Sea-Drift (1933 rev. 1942) [16:40]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Karl Krueger
rec. London: Carpenter, 1969, (first issued on SPAMH MIA 142); Coerne, 1968, (first issued on SPAMH MIA 141)
Hill, 1969, (first issued on SPAMH MIA 142); Parker, 1966, (first issued on SPAMH MIA 132), ADD
BRIDGE 9190 [65:48]
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Give or take a decade, this group of four North American composers belongs to the same generation as Vaughan Williams. They were pretty much unheard of apart from the odd ecclesiastical, song or salon piece until Karl Krueger and the Society for the Promotion of the American Musical Heritage (SPAMH) appeared on the scene. Krueger and the RPO, recording in London during the period from 1966 to maybe 1972, began to make real inroads into the major works of a forgotten American generation. The resulting LPs were issued to libraries world-wide and until the end of the SPAMH were not available retail. Quite apart from the four composers represented here the series excavated works by Farwell, Chadwick, Hadley, Macdowell, Paine, Antes and many other Americans from the three centuries to 1950.

The tone poem Excalibur is the only piece I have ever heard by Louis Coerne. Malcolm Macdonald’s extensive and agreeably full notes span twelve pages. They tell us that Coerne, over his 52 years, wrote some 500 works. His musical education was received in France and Germany. He became a close friend of Rheinberger whose Mass in A minor he completed. The ultra-romantic music of Excalibur sounds sumptuous if not ideally transparent in this forty plus year old recording. I am not sure about Liszt and Wagner but certainly Tchaikovsky and even Debussy must have been influences. The serenity of the music at 09:00 contrasts with the elfin Baxianisms (Spring Fire) of 10:01. The plunging extravagances of this score and its decorative pre-Raphaelite panoply suggest Coerne was an American counterpart to Bantock. Certainly if you have taken to the Bantock-Hyperion series or to the two Arthurian tone poems of Macdowell (Lamia and Lancelot and Elaine - review) you will not want to miss Coerne’s tone poem.

Edward Burlingame Hill’s music carries a light-suffused Gallic atmosphere in the case of the Stevensoniana Suite No. 1. It is more of the twentieth century than Coerne’s gorgeous canvas. The reference points for this suite (the first of two) about childhood can be found in Debussy, Grieg, Fauré and the lighter Delius. There is some passing tape phase distortion in the scherzo but nothing to take the charm out of this work which I once wrongly thought pretty poor stuff. This remastering has really lifted the work for me. I wonder if anyone will ever tackle the Second Stevensoniana Suite. Indeed after hearing Hill’s Prelude for Orchestra as conducted by Bernstein I hope that Naxos might revive the Violin Concerto and symphonies. The Robert Louis Stevenson poems that inspired each of the four movements are reproduced at the back of the booklet.

Two works by Horatio Parker caught the eye of Karl Krueger when deciding what to record. They were tone poems: A Northern Ballad (a title also adopted by Bax for three of his works in the 1930s) and the eastern fantasy Vathek recorded on Bridge 9124A/C and reviewed here . If the triangulation points for Vathek are Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini, Elgar's Second Symphony, Franck's Psyché and the early Miaskovsky symphonies (1-4) then for A Northern Ballad we must look to Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet (strongly) and Serenade for Strings, Berlioz, Dvořák (9:12) and early Delius. Typically the RPO brass are splendidly forward - strong and steady as can be and no doubt basking in the collective strengths of the Civil family. The strings are also excellent and if the recording is not very sophisticated it has forthright ‘honest John’ virtues. Given London’s reputation for sight-reading tough scores - not, I am sure, that these sessions, were sight-read - it is no wonder that Krueger forsook the union-trammelled American orchestras for those in the British capital. This is a not specially grim ‘Northern Ballad’ but neither is it frivolous - more predominantly thoughtful and fleetingly dramatic. It ends amid the warm glow of the strings.

Carpenter came from an affluent industrial factory owner family. After years of self-tuition he studied with John Knowles Paine. He took a handful of lesson with Elgar while in Rome. His first fame was found with songs and his orchestral song-cycle Gitanjali to words by Tagore should be well worth reviving. Later there were other fresh-faced and even cheeky products including the Piano Concertino (1915), Krazy Kat ballet (1921), Skyscrapers ballet (1923-4) and Adventures in a Perambulator, two 1940s vintage symphonies review. Sea-Drift is a tone poem stylistically indebted to Debussy’s La Mer and Prélude à l’Après-Midi d’un Faune. It also recalls in its mix of birdsong and lush impressionism Bax’s Spring Fire. Those lush harmonic progressions and wave-crashing climaxes warm the heart every time. Its inspiration is the same as for Delius’s work of the same name - Whitman’s sea-poems from Leaves of Grass. There’s competition for this work. Symposium 1295 has an historic recording of Bernstein conducting the NYPO in the early 1940s. Decca 4581572 has the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Raymond Leppard. I have not heard these other two recordings but I do know an off-air tape of Julius Hegyi and the Albany Symphony in Sea-Drift. Krueger’s meditative style suits the work very well indeed and the recording quality, though almost forty years old, is unsurprisingly better than my broadcast tape. Strange that the work is reflective but lacks the potent melancholia of Delius’s work.

As usual this Bridge reissue is superbly packaged and documented. The notes are by Malcolm Macdonald who has done such an excellent job of championing the British composers Havergal Brian and John Foulds.

A nicely contrasted selection of orchestral music ranging from the reflective impressionism of Carpenter to the playfulness of Hill to the surging pre-Raphaelite romanticism of Coerne and the Tchaikovskian melos of Parker.
Rob Barnett

Bridge reissues of the Krueger SPAMH recordings

Farwell, Hadley etc:



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