Piston was a masterful composer but remains underestimated and,
consequently, underplayed. Like a number of American composers
of his generation, he was a pupil of Nadia Boulanger. As with
many of them, his refusal to follow fashion led to his music
being ignored for being too tonal and too concerned with form.
Nevertheless, he continued to produce distinctive, intelligent
scores that inhabit a world somewhere between the neo-classical
and the neo-romantic.
First Edition re-release comprises recordings made by the Louisville
Orchestra from 1959 to 1975, each of which was a world premiere.
In each case, these recordings remain the only available versions
of each of these pieces. The Serenata was recorded by
the New York Chamber Orchestra and Gerard Schwarz for Delos,
but (for licensing reasons, perhaps?) that recording did not
emerge when its original disc mates were re-released by Naxos.
Interestingly, it is the Serenata which has been added
to this disc. Only the symphonies were included in its previous
incarnation on Albany.
Serenata is a neo-classical cracker. In three brief movements,
it is a concerto for orchestra in miniature and sounds like
the language of Hindemith spoken with Coplandís accent. It is
a marvellous piece and is given a spirited performance by the
Louisville Orchestra under Robert Whitney. The mono recording
is clean and clear and the ear quickly adjusts, given the excitement
of the performance.
three symphonies that follow are all treated to decent stereo
recording that wears its age reasonably lightly. Each is in
Fifth Symphony is as good a piece as the more famous
Sixth Symphony. Although the first movement is gritty
and does take a little while to get going, it introduces the
themes that will be developed and manipulated throughout the
piece. Once these have been grasped the symphony is fascinating.
The second movement is an adagio of subtle shifts and the finale
is a romping rondo that snaps with syncopated rhythms.
opening of the Seventh Symphony is all brutality and
harmonic ambiguity. The central slow movement is given over
to an almost bucolic interplay of woodwinds. The finale, after
recalling the preceding movements, canters to an emphatic finish.
for the Eighth Symphony, after a chromatic first
movement, the slow movement deals in uneasy counterpoint before
another rhythmically fascinating and driven finale.
and Mester prove worthy guides through these scores and if the
orchestral playing is not outstanding, it is certainly very
Pistonís fans, this disc is essential listening, the more so
due to the lack of competition. For those who do not know Piston,
the music collected here (with the exception of the Serenata)
is probably not an ideal introduction. For an initial contact
with Piston, I would recommend the superb disc of his two Violin
Concertos and the Fantasia for Violin and Orchestra
on Naxos, featuring soloist James Buswell and the National Symphony
Orchestra of the Ukraine conducted by Theodore Kuchar. Once
you have a feel for Piston's idiom, buy this disc.
final note to a couple of record companies in the hope that
they may be receptive:-
Naxos: please finish off the Piston cycle you have licensed
from Delos. Now that Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony
are recording for you as well as licensing to you, perhaps they
would like to finish what they began? If not, could the project
be handed over to Kuchar and his Ukrainians, who have proved
their mettle in this repertoire?
to Telarc: one of the reasons Piston does not command an audience
is because when his music is recorded it is usually by itself
for Pistonís existing fans to buy. Your innovative coupling
strategy for Paavo Jšrviís Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra recordings
has seen Martinů coupled with DvořŠk, Tubin with Sibelius,
Lutosławski with Bartůk, exposing record buyers to possibly
unfamiliar composers when they buy a much loved classic. What
about Piston with Hindemith or Shostakovich? You know it makes