The 18th Century American Overture
James HEWITT (1770-1827) Medley Overture in D (1798) [11:58]; New Medley Overture in C (1799) [12:25]; New Federal Overture (1796) [11:02]; Benjamin CARR (1768-1831) Federal Overture (1794) [10:10]; Alexander REINAGLE (1756-1809) Miscellaneous Overture in D (1801) [8:28]; Occasional Overture in D (1794) [7:47]; Overture in G (1787) [6:35]
Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä/Patrick Gallois
rec. Hanksalami Church, Jyväskylä, Finland, 4-8 May 2009
NAXOS 8.559654 [68:25]

This is another issue in the Naxos “American Classics” series. Even if you are doubtful about the relevance of the word “Classics” these Overtures most certainly are, and go out of their way to be, American. Each is in the form of a “Medley Overture”, a collection of popular tunes linked together with greater or lesser skill. Although this device originated in London the examples here are all intended to further particular political views at a time of intense debate in America between Federalists and Republicans. All of this is explained in the fascinating leaflet notes by Bertil van Boer who has also reconstructed these works, in some cases from limited evidence.

The tunes included in these Overtures almost invariably include “Yankee Doodle” and a large helping of Scottish and Irish tunes, presumably appealing especially to those coming from those countries. Other tunes used include the “Marseillaise”, William Shield’s “The Ploughboy”, “Oh dear, what can the matter be”, and, most surprising of all, the opening tutti from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 20 in D minor. The results are clearly of considerable historical interest even if musically to describe them even as second rate might seem an exaggeration of their qualities. However unless you insist on nothing but the best, as did a relation of mine whose entire reading of fiction consisted of “Ulysses” and “War and Peace”, there is much to enjoy here. This is due more than a little to the sprightly performances and clear recording but I think is primarily due to the very appealing self-confidence and ingenuous swagger of the music itself. Despite the political messages that their music is apparently intended to send, the three composers represented here were all British in origin – Reinagle from Scotland and Carr and Hewitt from England. These Overtures have much in common with the music of such composers as Michael Kelly, Charles Dibdin and Steven Storace. Hewitt is best known for a wonderfully naïve Sonata describing the Battle of Trenton, and the works by him on this disc are little more advanced musically. However like all the rest they have charm and curiosity value in abundance. Maybe it is overstating the case to describe them as “American Classics” but this is certainly a disc that I find almost always generates a contented smile in this listener at least.

John Sheppard

A disc that generates a contented smile.