My first encounter with the music of American John Alden Carpenter was the
Naxos CD of his two symphonies and his best-known work, Adventures in a
, a relatively early release in their American Classics
). I hadn't listened to it in quite a while, so gave it a
quick revisit, and reminded myself that the two symphonies were worthy,
though not especially memorable, and rather anachronistic for works written
during WW2. None of the works on the Naxos disc evinced any jazz influences,
so I was rather surprised to find that three of the works on this new Dutton
disc were very much of that genre.
is the eponymous character of a
cartoon strip that first appeared in the New York Evening Journal in 1913.
There aren't too many classical works that are based on cartoon strips; the
only other one I can think of is Ellen Zwilich's Peanuts
Carpenter's music was written for a pantomime ballet, choreographed by
Adolph Bolm. It predates Rhapsody in Blue
by several years, so the
use of a saxophone and wa-wa mutes on the brass must have provoked
consternation for some.
The sound-world of the Piano Concertino
is something of a
mix of the Romanticism of Rachmaninov and the jazz of Gershwin, all blended
with Latin sensibilities. The notes don't explain why it is called a
concertino, given that at 25 minutes plus, it certainly isn't a miniature,
but it is rather light in atmosphere, so that may be the reason. The rather
odd mix results in a work that is enjoyable at any moment that you choose to
drop in on it, but doesn't really hang together as a whole. The slow
movement is dreamily pretty, but meandering.
The Carmel Concerto
, Carpenter's final symphonic work,
reworks material from an earlier violin concerto; no solo part remains. It
is a tribute to the California seaside town of that name, where Carpenter
had spent some time. It has no jazz influence, unlike its disc-mates. It is
my pick of the works on this CD, by turns playful, graceful, and wistful,
adding some dramatic elements towards the close. For this to be its first
recording emphasises how there remain plenty of fine works still waiting
is not a conventional piano concerto,
or indeed concertino, but has a substantial and difficult part for the
soloist. Despite what I said about Carpenter's symphonies, he can't be
accused of not paying attention to the changing musical environment. This
work uses a tone-row as the recurring theme for the work, but clothes it in
harmonies that make the result more approachable.
The performances are uniformly excellent, and the notes by pianist Michael
Chertock comprehensive and informative. Had I known that the dominant style
here was jazz-influenced, I probably wouldn't have requested the disc for
review. I certainly didn't not enjoy any of the works, and the Carmel
concerto is one I will probably revisit occasionally.