Harl McDONALD (1899-1955)
The Music of Harl McDonald - Volume 2
Concerto for two pianos and orchestra (1936) [21:31]
My Country At War – Symphonic Suite (1941-43) [21:56]
Songs of Conquest (1937 rev 1939) [11:49]
Miniature Suite - free transcriptions of music by John Christopher Smith (1938) [7:58]
Children’s Symphony (1948) [14:53]
Jeanne Behrend and Alexander Kelberine (pianos)/Philadelphia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski (concerto)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy (My Country)
University of Pennsylvania Society/Harl McDonald (songs)
Arthur Fiedler’s Sinfonietta/Arthur Fiedler (suite)
Philadelphia Orchestra/ Harl McDonald (symphony)
rec. April 1937 (Concerto): December 1944 (My Country at War): March 1950 (Children’s Symphony), Academy of Music, Philadelphia; October 1940 (Songs of Conquest) no location:  April 1939 (Smith Miniature Suite) Symphony Hall, Boston
No texts
Full source details at end of reviews

As with their excellent series of American Music conducted by Howard Hanson, Pristine have done handsomely by Harl McDonald. This is the second of two McDonald volumes the first of which was reviewed here.

The lively and rhythmically interesting Two Piano Concerto straddles the line between Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov and does so with a delightful skill; so much so that if you are into early 20th century romantic piano concertos then you must not miss this piece. Don't expect miracles from the sound but this eighty-plus year old recording comes up sounding pretty good. Listen to the percussion at the start of the third movement which also takes something from McDonald's predilection for Latino flavour. It gets a snappy performance from everyone. My Country At War is a four movement suite: 1941; Bataan (presumably the same work as the tone poem of that name); Elegy; Hymn of the People. Look at those titles - the whole thing suggests Prokofiev of that war-torn era. An atmospheric 1941 prepares the way for the tense and rumbling threat of Bataan which would have had a strong resonance for Americans of those times. The Elegy is by no means sleepy; it seems to have the echoes of violent action woven into its substance. The Hymn of the People is typically impudent and goes with a 'Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!' swagger.

The a cappella work Songs of Conquest is, in its way, just as idealistic - even socialist - as John Ireland's contemporaneous These Things Shall Be. It has much the same seething, aspiring, utopian tone and the choral sound recalls Roy Harris of that era and the choral-orchestral flag-waving works of Howard Hanson and Randall Thompson. The John Christopher Smith Miniature Suite is an exercise in romanticised baroquerie. It works. As for the Children’s Symphony (On Familiar Tunes) in four movements it is most adroitly and affectionately done with many piquant touches as the familiar tunes pass by in parade. It would not be out of place next to Quilter's Children's Overture.

It comes as no surprise that the producer and audio restoration engineer is Mark Obert-Thorn so we are assured of the best possible results from recalcitrant source material. Speaking of which, the originals were supplied by Nathan Brown and Charles Niss to whom we also owe thanks.

This represents a surprisingly varied cross-section of the once extremely popular music of this American composer.

Rob Barnett

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

Discographical Information
Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra
1 1st Mvt.: Molto Moderato
2 2nd Mvt.: Theme and Variations
3 3rd Mvt.: Juarezca – Allegro
Recorded 19 April 1937 in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Matrix nos.: CS 07596-1, 07597-1, 07598-1, 07599-1, 07600-1 & 07601-1
First issued on Victor 15410/2 in album M-557
Jeanne Behrend & Alexander Kelberine (Pianos)
The Philadelphia Orchestra ∙ Leopold Stokowski

My Country at War – Symphonic Suite (1941-43)
4 1st Mvt.: 1941
5 2nd Mvt.: Bataan
6 3rd Mvt.: Elegy
7 4th Mvt.: Hymn of the People
Recorded 20 December 1944 in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Matrix nos.: XCO 34020-1, 34021-1, 34022-1, 34023-1, 34024-1 & 34025-1
First issued on Columbia 12241-D through 12243-D in album M-592
The Philadelphia Orchestra ∙ Eugene Ormandy

Songs of Conquest (1937; rev 1939) (Text: Phelps Putnam)
8 The breadth and extent of man’s empire
9 A complaint against the bitterness of solitude
10 A declaration for increase of understanding among the peoples of the world
11 The exaltation of man in his migrations and in surmounting of natural barriers
Recorded 20 October 1940
First issued as Victor 18164/5 in album M-823
University of Pennsylvania Choral Society ∙ Harl McDonald

John Christopher Smith (freely transcribed by Harl McDonald): Miniature Suite
12 1st Mvt.: Prelude
13 2nd Mvt.: Air
14 3rd Mvt.: Allemande
Recorded 12 April 1939 in Symphony Hall, Boston
First issued on Victor 4443/4 in album M-609
Arthur Fiedler’s Sinfonietta ∙ Arthur Fiedler

Children’s Symphony (On Familiar Tunes)
15 1st Mvt.: Allegro moderato
16 2nd Mvt.: Andante patetico
17 3rd Mvt.: Allegro scherzando
18 4th Mvt.: Allegro marziale
Recorded 19 March 1950 in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia
First issued on Columbia ML-2141 (LP)
The Philadelphia Orchestra Harl McDonald