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John Knowles PAINE (1839-1906) 
Overture to Shakespeare's As You Like It, op.28 (1876) [10:27] 
Shakespeare's Tempest - Symphonic Poem, op.31 (1877) [20:03] 
Symphony no.1 in C minor, op.23 (1872-75) [40:08] 
Ulster Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
rec. Ulster Hall, Belfast, 15-16 October 2012.
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559747 [70:38]

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 (review) 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 Beethoven.
 
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.
 
John Quinn

Previous reviews: Byzantion and Rob Maynard
 
Editor’s Note
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.


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