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Alan HOVHANESS (1911-2000)
Symphony No.1 op.17,2 "Exile Symphony" (1936) [18:16]
rec. live 6 December 1942, (US Premiere, First Version)
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
Symphony No.1 op.210 (1939) [21:09]
rec. New York live 21 March 1943 (First Performance in New York)
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Symphony No.2 - "Short Symphony" (1933) [15:07]
rec. 9 January 1944 – (Studio 8-H, New York City) (U.S. Premiere)
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
José SEREBRIER (b.1938)
Symphony No.1 – symphony in one movement (1956) [17:48]
Houston Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
rec. live 4 November 1957 Houston Music Hall - (World Premiere)
GUILD GHCD2347 [72:51]


Experience Classicsonline

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.

Milhaud's little 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 conductor. Various CDs attest to his baton-mastery: his Rimsky Scheherazade on Reference, his wonderful Janáček and Chadwick 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.

Rob Barnett


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