The strangest entry yet in the Naxos 'American Classics' series:
not only are there no classics on this disc, but the content
is about as American as apple pie - which was invented in England!
That is not to say that there is no value in the music: for
those in search of some turn-of-the-19th-century orchestral
easy listening, with plenty of humour - intentional or not -
thrown in, this is a relatively bargain-priced item. The works
are all of the 'medley overture' type, lightweight sequences
of popular tunes of the time stitched together with the joins
more or less showing.
The medleys usually include 'Yankee Doodle', and that really
is almost the entire extent to which these overtures can be
called American - though American audiences certainly lapped
them up at the time. More or less everything else is imported
from Europe, often note for note and to the tune of numerous
bars. Even the orchestrations are 'impostors' - recreated from
piano scores with some licence and the help of period documents
by Bertil van Boer.
In mitigation, however, this pastiche-cum-plagiaristic style
was intentional on the part of these composers, who were all
emigrants from Britain, and who sought to recreate a slice of
European culture in their new homeland for their paying fellow
expats. So there are plenty of Scottish and Irish reels and
folk tunes, the French national anthem and even, bizarrely,
a Mozart piano concerto - and much else besides.
The higher-quality works are those by Alexander Reinagle, all
rather unusually in two separate movements. The first, technically
a 19th century work, bears the magnificently blunt title of
Miscellaneous Overture, though ironically the content is less
sundry than James Hewitt's Medley Overture in D, in that it
concentrates on Celtic folk melodies and rhythms, and to some
effect. Reinagle's lively Overture in G, the last work on this
disc, is also the best - at least a little reminiscent of Joseph
Haydn in Scottish mode.
The performance by the Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä
is workaday, but in fairness to them, there is little meat in
the material for them to get their teeth into. Sound quality
is very good, though perhaps just a trifle flat. The CD booklet
is interesting: it announces the album title in showily large
capitals, has a reproduction of an aptly cheesy painting of
a bald eagle and American flag on the front, and a photo on
the back of Patrick Gallois apparently doing an impersonation
of André Rieu. Van Boer's liner-notes are informative, but his
argument that these tuneful, innocuous works are "political
statements" which belong in America's "symphonic legacy"
is rather overstated.
review by John Sheppard