American Pioneers
John Alden CARPENTER (1876-1951) Skyscrapers (1926) [20:58]
John Knowles PAINE (1839-1906) Oedipus Tyrannus Prelude, Op.35 (1881) [9:11]
Edward MACDOWELL (1866-1908) Lamia - Symphonic Poem, Op.29 (1888) [13:19]
Arthur FOOTE (1853-1937) Suite in E for Strings (1908) [17:29]
Dudley BUCK (1839-1909) Festival Overture on The Star Spangled Banner [6:46]
London Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Klein
rec. Watford, London 1987. DDD.
EMI CLASSICS 6411182 [67:44]

When this disc first appeared in 1988 as CDC7 49263-2 it was itself a pioneer in representing the orchestral voice of America’s East Coast composers. Here it is again making a welcome re-appearance.

The Carpenter is right out of the callow arrogant twentieth century. It accommodates, within a hyper-sharp Stravinskian palette, a sense of high, wide, jazzy, sleazy, sentimental, metropolitana. Gershwin and Markevich, Stravinsky (Petrushka) and de Falla rub shoulders and collide with banjo, bluesy washes of sound, Mexicana (La cucuracha) and Hollywood romance – though note the date. Bernard Herrmann must surely have been impressed because his Magnificent Ambersons and Citizen Kane scores also draw on the same frilly ‘Edwardian’ idiom that plays a part in this chocolate box. It all boils around in a kaleidoscope of voices – just the ticket for Diaghilev who commissioned the piece. By contrast Paine’s Oedipus Tyrannus reeks potently of Brahms’ Tragic Overture with dashes of Berlioz and Franck for good measure. Still it should appeal if you enjoy this lignite dark brooding milieu – which I do. We then move to Macdowell who we know through his piano miniatures – one in particular. We are less familiar with Macdowell’s tone poems though they are well worth knowing; try Bridge’s reissue of the old SPAMH recordings by Karl Krueger. There is a whole genre awaiting excavation as we know from the recent and glorious CD of tone poems by Boughton and Bainton on Dutton (CDLX7262). Lamia is a romantic counterpart to the tone poems of Tchaikovsky with which it curls up very snugly. Foote was another nineteenth century inflected voice. His Suite most masterfully inhabits the same smilingly confident world as Frank Bridge’s Suite for Strings, Elgar’s Serenade and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. The Pizzicato is clearly indebted to the equivalent movement in Tchaikovsky 4 but no harm in that. This is a freshly imagined work except in the final Fugue. Composers of that era would have done well to have avoided the dubious attractions of such organ loft suet pudding. Buck’s unselfconscious Festival Overture is a light confection making play with the national anthem while staying firmly in thrall to Schumann and Brahms; indeed he studied in Leipzig and Dresden. It’s fun – rather like having the Academic Festival Overture in collision with Victor Herbert and Morton Gould.

This disc also appears on Albany as TROY 235.

Good outline notes from Martin Cotton.

Here’s hoping that EMI Classics have not forgotten that they have a really good Roy Harris Fourth Symphony in their coffers. It was issued in the late 1970s as an HMV Angel LP (S36091). The Utah symphony forces were conducted by dear Old Maurice Abravanel who recorded almost everything in sight for Vanguard – let’s not forget totally his Mahler, Sibelius and certainly not his Vaughan Williams.

There we have it then – a fairly generous disc of unusual Americana at mid-price. The mix is unique and the variety stimulating.

Rob Barnett

A fairly generous disc of unusual Americana at mid-price. The mix is unique and the variety stimulating.