American Serenades

Victor HERBERT (1859-1924)
Serenade for Strings op.12 (1897) [24:46]
World premiere recording of the complete work

Arthur FOOTE (1853-1937)
Serenade for Strings op.25 (1891) [25:28]
Philippe Honore (solo violin), Dietrich Bethge (solo cello)
World premiere recording of the complete work
Suite in E major op.63 (1907) [16:50]
London Octave/Kypros Markou
rec. St Paul’s Church, New Southgate, London, 23-24 July and 2 September 2008
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7238 [68:51]
Credit to Dutton for rooting out a genre I had not previously even thought of: 19th century American concert music for string orchestra. Victor Herbert wrote shelves-full of music theatre (try the Newport Classics label) but was also an adept of the concert hall. His orchestral music has been recorded in the Marco Polo series. His Serenade for Strings is in five movements: (i) Aufzug (Tempo di marcia); (ii) Polonaise (Tempo moderato); (iii) Liebes-Scene (Langsam); (iv) Canzonetta (Allegretto); (v) Finale (Molto vivace). It is delightful and always light on its toes. It reminded me a little of Frank Bridge’s much later Suite for Strings, of the Elgar Serenade and of the Parry string works. The Arthur Foote Serenade of 1891 has a wider emotional range – a deeper span of the passions. The serene Bachian second movement is followed by a cheery Grieg-like Intermezzo rather in the manner of the Holberg Suite. A classically deliberate muscular Gavotte ends the Serenade – it’s a shade too teutonic for my liking. The movements are (i) Praeludium (Allegro comodo); (ii) Air (Adagio, ma non troppo); (iii) Intermezzo (Allegretto grazioso); Philippe Honoré (solo violin), Dietrich Bethge (solo cello); (iv) Romanze (Andante con moto); (v) Gavotte (Allegro deciso). The Foote Suite in E major was premiered on 16 April 1909 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by the very young Arthur Fiedler; has been recorded several times before: Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1940 – now on Pearl GEMM CD 9492, then on LP by the RPO conducted by Krueger Karl in 1963 on the miraculous SPAMH label (MIA 122) and most recently by the LSO and Kenneth Klein in 1987 at Watford Assy Hall on Albany TROY235 – originally issued on EMI Classics 49263. It is a fine poignant work with leaping melodic inspiration and a serious bearing; not that this stops Foote deploying a euphoria-inducing and witty Pizzicato second movement which more than doffs a hat to the equivalent movement in Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. After two superb movements Foote’s grounding in Germanic models via Chadwick, Paine and Parker as well as a good few European tours delivered a seething heaven-high fugue which has its moments but cannot quite slough of the stultifying impact of the form. The movements are (i) Praeludium (Allegro comodo); (ii) Pizzicato and Adagietto (Capriccioso allegretto); (iii) Fugue (Allegro giusto). The useful notes are by Mary A Wischusen. The recording hall is magnificent allowing Kypros Markou’s London Octave orchestra to sing with the silkiest of smooth edges and for the pizzicato writing to resonate in delight. Recording managers should be queueing to book this hall.
A successful foray into a newly revived genre. More please. Anyone for Arthur Farwell’s Brucknerian Rudolph Gott Symphony?

Rob Barnett
A successful foray into a newly revived genre. More please ... see Full Review