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Vincent PERSICHETTI (1915-1987)
Serenade No. 5 for Orchestra, Op. 43 (1950) [10:44]
Symphony for Strings (Symphony No. 5), Op. 61 (1953) [18:08]
Symphony No. 8 (1967) [28:50]
Louisville Orchestra/Robert Whitney, Jorge Mester
rec. Louisville 1954, 1960, 1970. ADD
Louisville commissions: Serenade 5 and Symphony for Strings.
All world premiere recordings

This First Edition reissue, logically garners three substantial Persichetti scores recorded between 1954 and 1970. Two are in mono. The Eighth Symphony is in stereo.

The succinct little Serenade No. 5 is part of a sequence of six serenades for various media. The first was written when Persichetti was fourteen and the last, for trombone, viola and cello, in 1950. There are six separately banded movements. None is longer than 2:19 and most are circa 1:47. Little they may be but their emotions are not out of the toy-box. The stomping thunder of the Prelude gives way to the storm-clouds of Poem - an overwrought episode lacking true peace. Interlude in its guileless tunefulness recalls that innocent dance tune in the finale to Piston's Second Symphony. This is a cassation with some carefree moments but with much that probes deeper and touches off emotional wellsprings. The idiom veers around softer focus Pulcinella-era Stravinsky, Piston, Britten, Kodaly and Nielsen.

The Symphony for Strings is Persichetti's No. 5. It is in a single movement with five tempo-mood differentiated sections each separately tracked. The music in the two allegros is athletic, big and supercharged. In the first allegro the Louisville strings show themselves a desperately impressive group demonstrating that this work is well up there with another tensile American Fifth for strings: Schuman's Fifth. There is a bleak sostenuto, a discordant adagio suggestive of a Midwest prairie landscape hung with threatening cumulo-nimbus and a sinuous andante of dissonant expression. Impressive stuff undeserving of its neglect.

Both the Serenade and the Symphony for Strings are world premiere recordings and Louisville commissions.

The cool and contained Eighth Symphony is the result of a commission from the Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory in Ohio. The first movement is a mosaic of wisps of melody; it speaks of the open air but it's the open air of a city. The andante sostenuto has a spiritual gait blended with the finest instrumental colours occasionally viewed through a serial 'glass'. In common with those of many successful American symphonies the finale is brisk and seething with life. Its jazzy propulsion works rather well but this is a symphony for urbanites not a symphony of Thoreau's wilderness. Stereo separation achieved by Howard Scott and his team is exemplary. It plays to the bejewelled strengths of this work which celebrates a craftsman's inspired attention to detail.

The veteran Robert Whitney conducted the other two works but this 1970 session was directed by Jorge Mester. As he had already demonstrated in his Louisville versions of Surinach's Feria overture and the Sinfonietta Flamenca, Whitney drove his orchestra like a fury. Mester's hand was less volatile; less hectically driven.

Strange how the Columbia Auditorium in which the other two Persichetti works were recorded delivered a more lively yet distanced sound. The Macauley Theatre in Louisville produced a slightly dry image but with lots of detailed analytical life.

An essential centrepiece to a Persichetti collection. Time for the rest of the symphonies and the complete piano music.

Rob Barnett



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