Peter MENNIN (1923-1983)
Concertato Moby Dick, for orchestra (1952) [10:53]
Symphony no.3 (1946) [20:26]
Symphony no.7 Variation-Symphony (1963) [26:18]
Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz
rec. Seattle Opera House, Washington, USA, 21-22 November 1994, 30 January 1995. DDD
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559718 [57:37]
These recordings were originally released on Delos (DE 3164) in the 1990s. Their reissue on Naxos, as part of both that label’s outstanding American Classics series and Seattle Symphony Collection can only be welcomed by aficionados of the great American symphony - both senses.
Peter Mennin's output is centred on his nine symphonies and three large-scale concertos. Despite his association with several outstanding compatriot symphonists, Mennin's own sound is not especially American. In fact, these orchestral works have quite a Scandinavian feel about them, calling to mind the great symphonies of Vagn Holmboe. There is also something of Vaughan Williams - his Fourth Symphony especially - and, at least in terms of contrapuntal energy and seriousness of intent, Hindemith.
Mennin's Third Symphony has appeared once before on Naxos, an archive recording from the Fifties, available for streaming or as a download only (9.80248) although see also the CRI Mennin CD. Gerard Schwarz's version is altogether zippier and renders Mennin's music all the more visceral. Indeed, the primal energy of all three works, taken with their torsional directness and sophisticated lyricism, gives them an unassailable all-round attractiveness that would surely gratify audiences as much today as was the case in the composer's heyday.
The Seattle Symphony's performance here is very stylish and urbane, with Schwarz in his element in this kind of repertoire. In the Seventh Symphony - premiered by the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell - they strut and sashay through the frequently virtuosic score with deftness and panache. Sound quality is good too. The booklet notes by Paul Schiavo are interesting and well written.
Mennin is, arguably, a greater symphonist than Roy Harris or Howard Hanson, who have both been relatively well served by Naxos. The label could easily make amends for the relatively short running time of this disc by now finding a suitable orchestra and conductor - the Baltimore and Alsop? - to record the rest of Mennin's superior symphonies for posterity.
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Visceral primal energy coupled with sophisticated lyricism.
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