American 78rpm Rarities
Walter PISTON (1894-1976)
Symphony No. 2 (1943) [24:13]
Genesis Suite (1943-5) [51:31]
Boston Symphony Orchestra/G. Wallace Woodworth (Piston); Edward Arnold (narrator); Chorus/Hugo Strelitzer; Janssen Symphony of Los Angeles/Werner Janssen
rec. live, Symphony Hall, Boston, 8 April 1944 (Piston); 11 December 1945, narration (circa June 1946).
Transfers from Office of War Information vinyl 78s "Contemporary American Series No. 34" Disc numbers 1009-1-4 (Piston); Artist Records set JS 10, 1101-1110 (Genesis)
More unthinkably esoteric material from Pristine; this time from mid-1940s USA.
The highly-coloured Genesis Suite was the product of music entrepreneur and composer-conductor Nathaniel Shilkret. It’s a luxury composite - a series of choral and orchestral musical panels. The Hollywood golden age East Coast complacent narration weaves in and out of the music. This high-flown Heston-style staginess works well and it’s very agreeable. You need to leave your cynicism at the hat-check.
The movements and their composers are:-
1. Creation (Nathaniel Shilkret) [9:36]
2. Adam and Eve (Alexandre Tansman) [10:06]
3. Cain and Abel (Darius Milhaud) [5:10]
4. Noah's Ark (Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco) [10:20]
5. The Covenant (Ernst Toch) [5:12]
6. Babel (Igor Stravinsky) [5:23]
7. Postlude (Arnold Schoenberg) [5:44]
The Shilkret Creation is glowingly and glaringly scored in the film industry’s most extravagant style. Tansman - entrusted with the story of Adam and Eve - is largely in the same region with writing that touches on Ravel at his most Daphne verdant. Cain and Abel is a shorter movement from Milhaud - silver screen dusted but rustically reminiscent of his orchestral suites. Noah's Ark is the work of Castelnuovo-Tedesco whose concert idiom was a mete choice for this suite - he suited Shilkret’s project like a gold lamé glove. His Violin Concerto No. 2 recorded by Heifetz and Perlman is entitled The Prophets. The contented Covenant panel is by Toch and is as short a movement as that by Milhaud. In this land there are as yet none of the troublous thoughts encountered by Job. It ends in a magnificence of fanfares. Babel is by Stravinsky. Not only can you hear the whole suite on the Naxos/Gerard Schwarz reconstruction of the Genesis Suite. It is also included in the major box of Sony’s complete works with the narrator there being John Colicos. Unsurprisingly there is more tension, punchiness and angularity in this writing. There’s more of that to come in Schoenberg’s concluding Postlude. Shilkret clearly knew no fear when choosing such uncompromising figures for the commission.
The original discs are in a distressed state but Pristine and their collaborators have delivered a virile and vivacious result though not without fragility and some spalling still in evidence. The scoring is cinematically opulent but can be heard in modern sound on a Naxos Milken Archive disc.
Walter Piston's Second Symphony was written in 1943 and was premiered on 5 March 1944 by the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hans Kindler. The reading presented here for the first time on CD is its second performance recorded under the auspices of the US Office of War Information. The Piston Second is one of his most endearing and moving works. The style is temperate and full of the noble life of the great outdoors. Its euphoric confidence I link with that also found in another American Second Symphony - the one by Randall Thompson (Sony - Bernstein; Koch - Schenck). The dynamic winged flight of Tippett’s Concerto for Double String Orchestra sometimes also comes to mind. In the big soulful second movement we might also think of Barber’s Adagio. The finale is explosive, adrenaline-fuelled and foot-tappingly kinetic. I have loved this work since hearing the version - again played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1970 - conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas (DG: LP 2530 103; CD: 429 860-2). I am not sure that MTT has been topped not even by Gerard Schwarz (Delos DE3074 and then Naxos). The sound, rescued from a battered set of vinyl 78s, is a bit crumbly but enthusiasts will want to hear this rare and rewarding item.
Rob Barnett 

Rare historical material but rewarding and as well as documentary value.