The Pulitzer Project
William SCHUMAN (1910-1992) A Free Song (1942) [13:41]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990) Appalachian Spring Suite (1944) [27:40]
Leo SOWERBY (1895-1968) The Canticle of the Sun (1945) [32:18]
Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus/Carlos Kalmar
rec. live, 25-26 June 2010, Harris Theatre, Chicago. DDD
CEDILLE RECORDS CDR 90000 125 [74:00]

The Pulitzer Prize was initiated in 1917 by the famous New York newspaper owner Joseph Pulitzer to honor notable new works of literature and journalism. By 1943, when the first award for music was given, the Pulitzer had become the premier American honor in its various fields. On this disc we have the winner of the very first Pulitzer for music, Schuman's A Free Song as well as Copland’s Appalachian Spring (1945 Pulitzer) and Sowerby’s The Canticle of the Sun (1946). One should mention that the 1944 winner was the Symphony No. 4 of Howard Hanson - a friend of Sowerby.

A Free Song is in two parts, each a setting of a Whitman poem inspired by the American Civil War. In 1942 Schuman found Whitman’s poems equally applicable to events at the height of the Second World War. In its two sections the work emotionally progresses from peace to the tragedy of war to unwavering resolution, the latter represented by a justly famous giant fugue. The work is extremely dynamic and will remind many listeners of the contemporaneous Symphony No. 3. These elements are well brought out by Carlos Kalmar and his orchestra and chorus.

Unfortunately Kalmar’s conception of Copland’s Appalachian Spring is not nearly as dynamic. The Prelude and the Duo that follows are so dragged out as to be devoid of interest. The Revivalist section and the Bride’s solo are somewhat better, but the final sections are again too slow. It should be said that the overall impression of slowness is not the fault of the orchestra - they play energetically and with a wonderful sheen, especially in the strings.

The 1946 Pulitzer winner was Leo Sowerby’s The Canticle of the Sun, a text also set by Mrs. H.H.A. Beach (another friend of Sowerby), Loeffler, and Roy Harris, just among Americans. The cantata was well-received at the time, but it also marks the beginning of Sowerby’s descent from the most-performed American composer of orchestral music of his day to one remembered only for his church and organ music, a situation still largely prevalent. While the work is a continuous setting of the verses of St. Francis’ famous poem Sowerby continuously develops the main theme so as to create a different tonal picture for each verse. A notable example of Sowerby’s transformative ability is the development of the music for the Sun’s verse into that for the Moon (verses 2 and 3) with the Moon music being rather Holstian. Sowerby’s developmental ability is at its height in the slow section dealing with Mother Earth, followed by the Canticle’s end: quietly gazing towards heaven. This is one of Sowerby’s most profound works and it is sad that it has had to wait over sixty years for its first recording.

The Grant Park Orchestra annually offers a ten-week festival of outdoor music in that eponymous Chicago park. Carlos Kalmar has been its conductor since 1999 and has greatly elevated its proficiency at the same time that he has programmed a great deal of American music. The fruits of his labor can be heard in the committed performances on this and other Cedille recordings. The title of this disc, The Pulitzer Project, implies further volumes of Pulitzer-winning compositions in the future, though there is no statement of such. In any case, the fact that two of the three pieces here are world-premieres, renders it an essential acquisition for all interested in American music.

William Kreindler

World premieres of two major American choral works - long overdue.

William Schuman review index