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
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.