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American Romantics: Premiere Recordings of Turn of the Century Works for String Orchestra
Gowanus Arts Ensemble/Reuben Blundell
rec. Peter Karl Studios, Gowanus Arts Building, 6-7 June 2014. DDD
NEW FOCUS RECORDINGS FCR166 [55:48]

These artists and this label can take several bows for their classy excavation of an unfamiliar genre of romantic music. It's a pity about the playing duration because there was more than sufficient space for another 20 minutes worth. I cannot believe that the source of the scores at the Fleisher Collection did not have more of the same accessible. From that point of view this release was premature but that's often the price to be paid for hearing unfamiliar music and it is well done.

This is beguiling music much of it written and delivered with a dragonfly light touch. Its lilac, sepia and aquarelle sentimentality is well worth your trouble and time. The ensemble is ten-strong so the emphasis is on elegance and transparency rather than lushly textural indulgence. If you enjoy Grieg's Holberg Suite, Sibelius's Rakastava, Tchaikovsky's music for string orchestra, Elgar's Serenade and Atterburg's Suite No. 3 you will take to this music like a duck to water. A few names here - Parker, Foote and Converse - are familiar from the grand revival work done by Dutton's International series and the SPAMH reissues released by Bridge.

The Carl Busch Omaha Indian Love Song is the epitome of a genre that mediates charm and melancholy as is his Elegie and Chippewa Lullaby. In fact the Elegie is piercingly poignant. We are assured that he also wrote orchestral suites, rhapsodies and symphonic poems. Presumably he can be counted alongside Arthur Farwell's Indianist school. Paul Miersch's Pleasant memories spins its own variation around pizzicato work but with a strolling cello solo. He also wrote an Indian Rhapsody as well as concertos for violin and for cello and a string quartet. Ludwig Bonvin was Swiss-born but made the name that brought into this company in Buffalo, NY. His Christmas Night’s Dream is a tenderly faltering starry effusion. Carl Hillmann was for some years principal second violin of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Theodore Thomas. His Wiegenlied/Lullaby — not 'Wegenlied' as insisted upon by the liner-note and for all I know by the score — also celebrates pizzicato and matches it up with a smoothly romantic descant. The playing conveys some nicely calculated judgements on dynamic contrast. Horatio Parker was a pupil of George Chadwick. His students at Yale at included Ives, Quincy (not 'Quincey') Porter and Roger Sessions. His Scherzo manages to be both fey and stately with a romantic sigh never far distant. New Orleans man Dédé must have had an extremely hot day in mind for his Bees and Bumblebees are sedate even if the hum is unmistakable. These bees would certainly have been left in the starting blocks by Rimsky's solitary example. Conductor and guiding hand for this project, Reuben Blundell tells us that Foote's Air and Gavotte were originally the second and fifth movements of his Serenade for Strings. The Air is strongly Bachian; the Gavotte likewise with a dash of Grieg. Converse, a student of John Knowles Paine, is known in some quarters for his tone-poem after Walt Whitman, The Mystic Trumpeter, and 1905 opera The Pipe of Desire which the liner reminds us was the first American work performed by the Metropolitan Opera in New York. His short Serenade is suave, consoling and has a fine honest melody to work with. The Rural Symphony by Henry Schoenefeld was awarded a first prize by Dvorak. Schoenefeld studied with Reinecke in Leipzig and had Roy Harris among his pupils. His Scherzo trips along lightly and ends with a stirring bustle.

The disc is carried in a digipack with a separate booklet inserted in the side-pocket.

Rob Barnett

Detailed Contents List
Carl BUSCH (1862-1943)
Omaha Indian Love Song and Chippewa Lullaby from Four North American Legends 6:08 + 4:25
Elegie, Op. 30 6:22
Paul MIERSCH (1868-1956)
Pleasant memories (Gais Souvenirs)—Pizzicato Caprice pour Instruments à cordes 2:06
Ludwig BONVIN (1850-1939)
Christmas Night’s Dream (Christnachtstraum), Op. 10 4:22
Carl HILLMAN (1867-1930)
Lullaby (Wegenlied), Op. 21 2:21
Horatio PARKER (1863-1919)
Scherzo, for Strings 5:15
Eugène Arcade DÉDÉ (1867-1919)
Bees and Bumblebees (Abeilles et Bourdons), Op. 562 4:33
Arthur FOOTE (1853-1937)
Air & Gavotte for Strings 8:31
Frederick Shepherd CONVERSE (1871-1940)
Serenade 2:57
Henry SCHOENEFELD (1857-1936)
Scherzo from Characteristic Suite, Op. 15 4:52

 

 




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