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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
Louisville Orchestra/Jorge Mester *
rec. 1954 (No.5); 1960 (Serenade); 1970 (No.8), Louisville, Kentucky

First Edition’s reissue programme continues with their splendid Persichetti release. It opens with the Fifth Serenade, written in 1950, one of fifteen such works in this form that he was to write throughout his compositional life. It’s a concise, ten-minute, six-movement work strong on teaky lower string sonorities and rather bluffly vigorous. As no single movement much exceeds two minutes compression and incident are the names of the game – from the light, freewheeling Interlude, full of jollity, to the more concentrated expression of the wind passages in the penultimate Dialogue. The finale is a tangy folkloric Burla.

Of rather greater significance to his canon however are the two symphonies; the Fifth (Symphony for Strings), which was written in 1953 and the Eighth which followed fourteen years later. There is unavoidable high-level hiss on the master tapes of the Fifth, taped in 1954, which is otherwise recorded rather closely. The angularly agitated opening viola theme lies behind the whole single movement – though multi-partite – symphony. Its success lies in its formal conception, in a mastery of long-term structural goals derived from a short seed and in the sense of inevitability with which Persichetti commands his material. Whitney certainly catches its tangible sense of nervousness and anxiety and brings forth the string choir entries in the adagio section with commendable acuity. Where the angularity develops a particular charge – in the Andante pages – we similarly find Whitney fully in control. And so too in the somewhat neo-classically dissonant shape of the whole, as exemplified by the charging and successful Allegro summation – touches of the Mahlerian not excluded. It’s undeniable that whilst the conception is solid, the performance falls somewhat short of ideal. The sections do sometimes lack unanimity of attack and the strings fail really to sing out when it’s most needed. Nevertheless the actual perception underlying Whitney’s 1954 recording is undoubtedly superior to anyone else’s – certainly to the Philadelphia/Muti, whose executant standards naturally are commensurately higher than the Louisville’s. 

The Eighth Symphony was recorded under Mester in 1970. It’s four-movement work not far short of the half-hour mark in length. Tonal, grave but with moments of lucid lightness it’s constructed with all the composer’s accustomed sagacity. A vein of neo-classical elegance balances turbulent, brassy and percussive moments. Even the slow movement, which has genuine warmth, evinces a somewhat patrician sounding reserve. The Allegretto is decidedly brusque. But the finale witnesses a certain falling off of intensity – it’s still propulsive and full of brass dynamism but it’s not as tightly coiled as one finds elsewhere. The playing under Mester is certainly good but that finale in particular might work better if taken with a tighter grip.

The original liner notes are reprinted – always a feature of these Louisville reissues – and standards remain admirably high in this welcome series.

Jonathan Woolf 

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