I think I’ve heard most of the discs that JoAnn Falletta and
the Ulster Orchestra have made together for Naxos while she’s
been their Principal Conductor and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve
heard. There’s been a fine CD of less well-known music by Holst
and an important disc that includes an excellent account of the Moeran
Cello Concerto (review).
On the strength of that disc I bought its companion, which contains
the three Rhapsodies (review).
I think most, if not all, of Falletta’s Ulster recordings to
date have been of British music, which is very pleasing, but it’s
great to find her now breaking a lance in Belfast for music by one
of her compatriots,. John Knowles Paine.
I first came across Paine’s music a good few years ago when,
during a trip to the USA, I made a speculative purchase of the recordings
of his First Symphony (New World Records NW 374-2) and the Second
Symphony ((NW 350-2) by the New York Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta.
Those recordings were made as long ago as 1989 and 1986 respectively.
My enjoyment of those discs led me to seek out a recording on the
same label of Paine’s substantial Mass in D (1872) (80262-2)
and a recording on the GM label of his oratorio St Peter (1873)
(GM2027CD-2). Both of these were conducted by Gunther Schuller. It’s
been a while since I’ve listened to either but my recollection
is that the Mass is a work of no little quality whereas I found St
Peter rather harder going. The truth is that, leaving aside issues
of musical quality, the length of both pieces probably works against
them: the Mass plays - in Schuller’s recording - for 101:18
and the oratorio is even longer at 125:17. Both works require a solo
quartet, chorus and orchestra. If, having sampled Paine’s music
through this new recording of his symphony, you are inspired to investigate
either of these choral works it seems from visiting the websites of
the respective labels that both of the aforementioned recordings are
still available, as are the Mehta recordings of the symphonies. Some
chamber works are also available.
Does Paine’s music repay further investigation? I think it does.
However, before considering the music it may be helpful to sketch
in some biographical background for which I’ve drawn not just
on Frank K. DeWald’s Naxos notes but also on the note by Steven
Ledbetter that accompanied the Mehta recording. Paine was born in
Portland, Maine. His father ran a music store and also made instruments.
In 1858, after showing early promise, Paine went to study in Berlin
for three years. On his return to the USA he first taught organ at
Harvard University, becoming an assistant professor at the university
in 1873. Among his pupils over the years were composers John Alden
Carpenter, Arthur Foote, Daniel Gregory Mason and the future critic,
Olin Downes. Paine remained a highly respected figure in American
musical life for the rest of his life. His period of study in Germany
is significant for in the second half of the nineteenth century American
musical life was heavily influenced by German musicians who had settled
in the country and also by the Austro-German compositional tradition.
The music on this disc, all of which seems immaculately crafted, is
heavily - but beneficially - influenced by Mendelssohn, Schumann and
Indeed, in his notes accompanying Mehta’s recording of the First
Symphony Steven Ledbetter includes a quotation from Gunther Schuller,
describing the work as ‘the best Beethoven symphony that Beethoven
didn’t write himself’. I understand what Schuller had
in mind but I’d suggest that the influences of Mendelssohn and
Schumann are greater in this score which has a valid claim to be the
first American symphony of any significance.
Mind you, Beethoven’s shadow looms large over the first movement
of Paine’s symphony if for no other reason than that he makes
great use of the dee-dee-dee-DAH rhythm that permeates Beethoven’s
opening movement, albeit the rhythm is not used in anything like as
dramatic and driving a fashion by Paine. There’s no ‘messing
about’ with an introduction, either; Paine launches into his
Allegro con brio with great confidence. The music in this movement
is attractive and has no little character. It’s spirited stuff
and it’s played here with fine spirit. A dotted-note rhythm
predominates in the scherzo, and impels the music along nicely. The
trio is graceful and typifies the attractive way in which Paine writes
for the woodwind.
The Adagio is at the heart of this symphony. A nobly sung first theme
sets the tone for a warm and generously lyrical movement. This most
engaging music is played quite beautifully by the Ulster Orchestra.
By comparison, Mehta is sometimes more expansive in his pacing, though
overall his timing is virtually identical to Falletta’s; the
younger conductor, however, seems to me to impart a somewhat more
natural flow. The C major finale is outgoing and optimistic in tone.
This is energetic, confident music and it seems to me that JoAnn Falletta catches
the mood of the movement perfectly. Intriguingly Zubin Mehta’s
account of the movement takes some 2½ minutes less yet his
core tempo doesn’t seem significantly different. I don’t
have access to a score but I wonder if he makes any cuts. It’s
this movement which mainly accounts for the fact that Mehta’s
performance of the symphony as a whole is significantly shorter, coming
in at 37:20 against Falletta’s 40:08.
Ms Falletta offers the Overture to Shakespeare's ‘As You
Like It’, as does Mehta. Although Paine called this an overture
to the play I don’t believe the piece was connected to
any performance or that it is programmatic in any way. The slow introduction
begins with a winning clarinet melody, in which the bassoon joins
before long, and the music soon gathers steam. The main body of the
work (from 3:18) is a bracing allegro. This is a very likeable
concert overture and it gets a fine performance here.
Unlike Mehta, Miss Falletta offers a third work, which was completely
new to me. The Tempest symphonic poem is in four continuous
movements, though Naxos helpfully divide the work further, into seven
tracks in all. The second movement, ‘Calm and happy scene before
Prospero’s cell’, is most engaging; the music is calm
and contented and it’s expressively played. Immediately following
is a very short passage, ‘Ariel’, which features some
delectable writing for woodwind and harp. The finale is entitled ‘Episode
with Caliban’ and here Caliban sounds a pretty good-natured
individual. I’m not sure how this movement - or, indeed, quite
a bit of the rest of the work - relates to Shakespeare’s play.
However, it’s a well-written very attractive composition played
here with great conviction.
None of the music on this disc is front-rank in quality but it’s
most definitely worth hearing. Paine’s music is unfailingly
attractive and he writes very well indeed for the orchestra. German-influenced
it may be, but there’s nothing wrong with that and it’s
fascinating to hear some of the music that was being written as the
USA began to find its musical feet as a nation. Indeed, John Knowles
Paine deserves a pace of honour as one of the important pioneers of
American music as teacher and composer. The performances here are
very good indeed: JoAnn Falletta and the Ulster Orchestra seem to
relish the music and they make an excellent case for it. This disc
now supersedes the Mehta one. For one thing it offers more music.
Also, I find the playing rather more spirited but that may be due,
in part, to the sound of the two orchestras. The Ulster Orchestra’s
sound is leaner than the NYPO - though by that I don’t mean
it sounds thin - and the Ulster band seems to me to be recorded with
greater clarity; by the side of the Naxos recording the older New
World disc sounds a bit over-nourished.
It’s recently been announced that JoAnn Falletta will not be
continuing with the Ulster Orchestra when her contract expires at
the end of the current season - she will be replaced as Principal
Conductor by Rafale Payare. It’s rather surprising that her
relationship with the orchestra has been so short - just three years
- and one wonders why it is not to be extended. On the evidence of
what I’ve heard on disc conductor and orchestra seem to work
well together. I believe I’m right in saying that a recording
of the Paine Second Symphony is already safely ‘in the can’;
I hope that’s true and that there will be time for this team
to set down one or two more recordings together - perhaps the Moeran
G minor Symphony? - before she departs from Belfast.
Previous reviews: Byzantion
The two Paine symphonies were included in LP recordings made by the
Society for the Promotion of the American Musical Heritage (SPAMH)
in the second half of the 1960s (MIA103 and MIA120). The conductor
was Karl Krueger and the orchestras were the American Arts Orchestra
(1) and the RPO (2). Krueger and the SPAMH, as part of the same enlightened
project, also recorded the other two works on this Naxos disc as well
as the brief Moorish Dance: Azara. These were spirited renditions
but their analogue origins no doubt tell against them. In any event
Bridge, who have reissued more than a few SPAMH LPs on CD, have to
date left them on the shelf. A more recent recording is of Paine’s
Prelude Oedipus Tyrannus by Kenneth Klein and the LSO as part
of an “American Pioneers” collection on EMI
Classics. It’s well worth hearing.