Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line




Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


CD REVIEW

Some items
to consider

 


Enjoy the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra wherever you are. App available for iOS and Android


Tudor 7188


Vaughan Williams Symphony 3 etc.


Lyrita New Recording


Lyrita Premiere Recordings

Lyrita 4CDs £16 incl.postage

Lyrita 4CDs £16 incl.postage


Decca Phase 4 - 40CDs


Judith Bailey, George Lloyd


BAX Orchestral pieces


CASKEN Violin Concerto

Schumann Symphonies Rattle


Complete Brahms
Bargain price

 

 

 

 


alternatively Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Virgil THOMSON (1896-1989)
The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936)
(1. Prelude [4:04]; 2. Pastorale (Grass) [1:20];  3. Cattle [2:07];  4. The Homesteader [2:48]; 5. Warning [1:30]; 6. War and the Tractor [3:55]; 7. Speculation (Blues) [2:55]; 8. Drought [1:46]; 9. Wind and Dust [2:04]; 10. Devastation [4:23])
The River (1937)
(1. Prelude [0:40]; 2. First Forest [1:01]; 3. A Big River [2:46]; 4. Cotton Pickers [2:43]; 5. Ruins [1:19]; 6. Logging [2:00]; 7. Coal [2:37]; 8. Floods [7:39]; 9. Requiem [1:14]; 10. Tenancy [3:21]; 11. Finale [3:23])
Post-Classical Ensemble/Angel Gil-Ordóñez
rec. 11-12 June 2005, Omega Recording Studios, Rockville, Maryland, USA
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559291 [55:35] 



Pare Lorentz’s documentaries, The Plow That Broke the Plains and The River, are considered to be some of the best ever made. Dismissed by some as government propaganda they draw their strength from the filmmaker’s unwavering support for Roosevelt’s New Deal and the belief that farmers in the drought-stricken ‘dust bowls’ were entitled to federal support.  Commissioned by the US Government the films highlight the very real dangers of farming in the Great Plains – then in the grip of a terrible drought – and the need for flood prevention along the Mississippi.
 
Thanks to Naxos and Angel Gil-Ordóñez and his Washington-based Post-Classical Ensemble we now have Thomson’s complete scores on CD at last. Yes, there is something of the plain-spoken style one associates with Copland – who admired The Plow for its ‘frankness and openness of feeling’ – but the ‘voice’ is unmistakably his own.
 
And despite the biblical proportions of this tragedy Thomson eschews the epic approach in favour of something much plainer, more intimate. The gentle Pastorale (Grass) certainly recalls Copland at his open-hearted best. This is a vision of Eden, of grasslands as yet unspoilt, and Thomson manages to suggest both this happy state and a sense of wide open spaces with a remarkable economy of style. Beneath the music’s often naïve charm the timps beat, portents of the destruction to come, yet for all that Thomson never allows the music to become portentous. Indeed, Lorentz’s script may seem a little too poetic for modern ears but there is no doubting the filmmaker’s sincerity, a quality that Thomson complements so well.
 
Some of the most winning music in this score can be found in the dance-like rhythms of Cattle. There’s no crude musical onomatopoeia – though there is a Grofé-like imitation of hooves at one point – and in The Homesteaders Thomson mixes the martial trumpets and drums with snatches of banjo and catchy folk tunes. There is a sense of ease and contentment here which – to use a Hollywood analogy – is more George Stevens than John Ford or Howard Hawks. But even though this is not a hard landscape the timps remind us that with no rivers and little rainfall the settlers farm here ‘at their peril’.
 
The repeated trumpet calls and jaunty march rhythms of Warning and War and the Tractor are a reminder of conflicts past and present, not to mention the advancing legions of machines that ‘break’ the land. Judicious as always Thomson never resorts to musical histrionics, even at moments of high drama; just sample the wistful, bluesy sax in Speculation, whose growing dissonance dissolves into the strange empty harmonies of Drought. This pared-down approach is equally effective in Wind and Dust, with its swirling figures and distressed trumpets.
 
The earlier folk-like melodies resurface in Devastation but this time there is a hollow ring to the once reassuring tunes. Lorentz’s script is bleak indeed, describing the farmers and their families fleeing the dust bowls, with ‘no place to go and no place to stop’. This almost biblical exodus was to dominate John Ford’s equally bleak 1940 film of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Not surprisingly both films have been deposited in the US National Film Archive.
 
Lorentz made The River a year later, in 1937. The film, which showcases the dam-building and flood-prevention efforts of the Tennessee Valley Authority, is a much simpler, more direct narrative. That said, Thomson provides a stream of good tunes, with a thrusting Prelude and some lovely solo writing in First Forest and A Big River, depicting the mighty Mississippi. The music has an easy flow to it, the timps this time underlining the steady building work on the dams and levées.
 
The film doesn’t seem to have the dramatic subtext of The Plow, and Thomson’s approach here is best described as straight pictorialism. That said, he has an Ivesian knack for quoting popular tunes that would surely resonate with US audiences of the time. Sample the rollicking Cotton Pickers with its evocative banjo melody and distant trumpets, the latter a reference to the Civil War. And then there’s that sad little melody of the old plantations in Ruins.
 
In keeping with the film’s spirit of public information Logging and Coal offer an opportunity to trumpet the virtues of enterprise and hard work, essential to getting America back on its feet. Thomson uses snare drums to remarkable effect, depicting rafts of logs rolling down the river. He also quotes the jaunty tune ‘There’ll Be A Hot Time in Town Tonight’, very much as Ives might have done.
 
Yet even this simple narrative has a sting in the tail, with disaster in the form of Flooding. That Mississippi solo we heard earlier now sounds mournfully over a pulsing drum, a marvellous evocation of a drowned landscape. The futile efforts to hold back the waters are depicted in repeated, pounding rhythms, the skeletal unison writing of Requiem a grim postlude.
 
Unlike the first film The River ends on a more positive note, the waters finally ‘locked and dammed’. Thomson reflects this new optimism in music that flows freely and broadens into a simple yet spacious climax. This isn’t as much of a ‘melodrama of nature’ as The Plow, but at worst Thomson’s music is robust and workmanlike, at best highly accomplished and very evocative.
 
These films are now available on DVD (Naxos 2.110521) with an up-to-date soundtrack by the Post-Classical Ensemble. I have to say hearing this score has tempted me to go out and buy a copy. But if you just want the music –– this disc is as authoritative as it gets. With a warm, detailed recording and informative notes by Joseph Horowitz this is a very desirable issue indeed.
 
Dan Morgan

see also review by Bob Briggs
 

Naxos American Classics page



 


Gerard Hoffnung CDs

Advertising on
Musicweb


Donate and get a free CD

New Releases

Naxos Classical

Hyperion

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
Alto
Arcodiva
Atoll
CDAccord
Cameo Classics
Centaur
Hallé
Hortus
Lyrita
Nimbus
Northern Flowers
Redcliffe
Sheva
Talent
Toccata Classics


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample
 


EXPLORE MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL

Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews

 

Discographies
   Composer
      Composer surveys
   National
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
.
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

Interviews
With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site

Nostalgia

Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Comment
Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure

Announcements

 

Community
Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Reviewers
Pat and present

Helpers invited!

Resources
How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips


Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Publishers
Other links
Newsgroups
Web News sites etc

PotPourri
A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Questionnaire    
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Dictionary
Magazines
Newsfeed  
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools




Return to Review 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.