The 18th Century American Overture
James HEWITT (1770-1827)
Medley Overture in D minor & major (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. Hankasalmi Church, Jyväskylä, Finland, 4-8 May 2009. DDD

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.


Tuneful and innocuous.