Guild's Historical label raises expectations of the esoteric.
Their rarities encompass broadcast live recording sources and,
less frequently, arcane repertoire. This disc combines the two
facets. Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) is the unifying factor.
His adventurous mind ranged far and wide over revivals of the
then unfashionable (Mahler symphonies) to introducing the works
of young or recherché composers.
He was a staunch
and practical friend to Hovhaness whose fully fledged Exile
Symphony is featured here in its 1942 US premiere. The BBC
had given its world premiere with the ill-fated Leslie Heward
in 1939. The recording is clear and clean allowing for some
coughs and shuffles. The brass are pretty much present and full-on.
This original version can be compared with the revision which
appears on a long deleted Delos CD under Gerard Schwarz. I was
taken with the original which while including many Hovhaness
hallmarks also sports a stronger narrative continuum than we
may be accustomed to from this composer. Futile, I know, but
I do wonder what we lost in his much-recounted 1940s bonfire
of a barrow-load of his youthful Sibelian effusions. The movements
are: Lament, Conflict, Triumph. The barking brass recall the
RVW music for Apollyon in Pilgrim's Progress but the
Triumph is crowned with a weighty paean suggestive of
the grand operas of the Russian people. The work arose from
the Scottish-Armenian-American composer's reflections on an
event which continues to resonate internationally - the massacre
of Armenians in Turkey in 1916. It's a fine statuesque work
and truly vivid in this superbly committed performance.
First Symphony carries in its first movement an innocent and
intricate charm, pastoral beauty and buoyancy. The rest of the
work is unafraid of dissonance and darting conflict. It is sometimes
touched - as in the finale - by a neo-classical flightiness.
Copland's Short Symphony is his first of more than three in
that genre - so maintains Robert Matthew-Walker in his provocative
liner-note. He counts the three numbered symphonies of 1924,
1933 and 1946 and interleaves the Dance Symphony (1930)
and Symphonic Ode (1929) with the Short Symphony and
Connotations (1962) and Inscape (1967). Its spiky
angularity cannot conceal the many incidences of ripe Copland
DNA. There are also some moments of Roy Harris-like heroism
as at 3:38 onwards in I. The relationship of those stabbing
brass note-cells to the fate motif from Beethoven's Fifth is
also to be noted. The filtered and refracted premonitions of
El Salon Mexico can be heard in the final Fast movement.
We know of Jose Serebrier
as assistant to Stokowski, as a composer and a very individual
Various CDs attest to his baton-mastery: his Rimsky Scheherazade
on Reference, his wonderful Janáček
and a truly radiant and miraculously paced Glazunov Fourth Symphony
for all time from Warner. While the other three works have the
NBC Symphony Orchestra, the single movement Serebrier First Symphony,
written at the astonishing age of sixteen, is with the Houston
Symphony - the orchestra which Stokowski was to conduct in the
premiere of Hovhaness's Symphony No. 2 Magic Mountain.
The Serebrier is raucously uproarious, explosive and dissonant
and then chastened and scorched - smoking back into an inert state.
The symphony is troubled beyond the composer's years but discovers
a remarkable plateau of singing radiance from 15:32 onwards to
the close. In 1962 Stokowski conducted the New York premiere of
Serebrier's Elegy for Strings and the year after that the
world premiere of his Poema Elegiaco.
More than history.
More than time-travelling. In-depth vivid musical enjoyment in
unhackneyed repertoire. A glimpse of Stokowski the champion of
the perceived peripheral.