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Arthur FOOTE (1853–1937)
Francesca da Rimini, Op. 24 (1890) [14:41]
Serenade, Op. 25 (excerpts) (1889, 1866) II. Air [8:42] V. Gavotte [3:37] 
Four Character Pieces after the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Op. 48 (1900) [16:37]
Suite in E major for string orchestra, Op. 63 (1907) [15:43]
Seattle Symphony Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz
rec. Seattle Center Opera House, Washington, USA, 24 February 1997 (Francesca; Omar), Benaroya Hall, Seattle, 5 January 2007 (Serenade), 12 November 2004, 11 February 2005 (Suite)
Experience Classicsonline

Arthur Foote was very much the Bostonian. He was a pupil of John Knowles Paine so in terms of how we now relate to the 19th century American music scene he might be said to be of the East Coast second generation. He is soundly Brahmsian in his language with diversions to Schumann and possibly Tchaikovsky from time to time.

The “Symphonic Prologue” Francesca da Rimini was founded on the story of Francesca and Paolo from the fifth Canto of Dante’s The Inferno. It is Foote’s second published orchestra work. He was an eloquent craftsman and as much is evident from his turbulent Francesca which you might think of as a step along the same path as Brahms’ Tragic Overture and Schumann’s Overture, Scherzo and Finale. His romantic delicacy of expression at 11:43 and at 13:50 to the contented end make a more personal and deeply satisfying effect.

The Air and Gavotte for strings are big band expressions and romantic developments of Bach’s orchestral suites. They form the second and fifth movements of his Serenade, Op. 25.

When we think of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám in the context of music we may recall Bantock’s grand choral-orchestral epic or perhaps the Lehmann song-cycles. A little more recently there was Hovhaness’s piece for orchestra, accordion and narrator once recorded on a CBS LP (M34537) and then revived on Delos CD (DE3168) by the same forces as here with Michael York as narrator and Diane Schmidt as accordionist.

Foote developed his more romantic invention in the compact Four Character Pieces. In the first he forswears Brahmsian gloom and embraces with great eloquence the sort of silvery language one finds in Grieg’s music for Peer Gynt and this quasi-impressionism returns for the noble third movement. The subject matter is reflected in the oriental hues, twists and sway – especially of the outer movements. This is very much a case of applying a tint rather than sousing the score in the middle east equivalent of chinoiserie. It is a most magical score straddling the line between Brahms and impressionism. Each of the four movements is prefaced in this atmospheric score by verses from Fitzgerald’s free translation.

The solid Suite in E major for string orchestra looks to the worlds of the Dvořák and Tchaikovsky Serenades and Grieg’s Holberg. It has a delightful central pizzicato section that is indebted to the equivalent movement in Tchaikovsky’s Fourth. The short final fugue returns to Brahmsian gravity.

The helpful liner notes are by Bernard Jacobson.

Quite apart from its very compelling intrinsic merits this disc has great value. It has no competition. I had wondered whether Bridge would be reissuing on CD Karl Krueger and Royal Phil’s 1965-66 analogue LP versions of Francesca and Omar but there is no sign as yet. They first appeared on one of the most grandly titled of labels: The Society for the Promotion of the American Musical Heritage on MIA127. The Suite came out on SPAMH LP MIA122. In the early 1980s Jorge Mester and the Louisville Orchestra had a recording of Francesca. I note that there are alternative versions of the Suite from Albany with the LSO and Kenneth Klein (TROY235) and an historical recording on pearl GEMM CD 9492 from Foote’s home town orchestra, the Boston Symphony with Koussevitsky. They are each components in mixed American orchestral recitals. Even if these were easy to obtain – which not all of them are – this inexpensive Naxos CD is the only complete Foote anthology. It’s well worth tracking down if you have a taste for the music I have given as reference points.

Rob Barnett


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