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

This is the second volume in a very welcome project that has restored Harl McDonald’s music. The earlier disc (review) included some entertaining items and this second release is no less exuberant and tangy, reflecting McDonald’s eclectic tastes.

The Concerto for Two Pianos has already been transferred to CD on Cala’s Philadelphia Rarities disc [CACD 0501] but it’s wholly right that it should be here, not least when it’s such an engaging piece. Stokowski draws rich organ-like sonorities from the lower strings of his orchestra and the pianists, Jeanne Behrend and Alexander Kelberine extract the maximum of flair. There is a great sense of colour in this work and, so too, wit; also slyness. Surely it’s no coincidence that McDonald alludes to Rachmaninovian scampering, given that this orchestra and conductor had premiered Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody just two years earlier. Exciting percussion is a vital part of the Juarezca finale - typically outdoors music with plenty of orchestral incident and grand Romantic rhetoric and big tunes.

My Country at War is a symphonic suite that draws upon some pre-existing material. Two of the movements were originally set for baritone soloist and orchestra but the suite dispenses with the vocal role. The movement called 1941 is brassy, powerful and confident though a trudging March theme, somewhat filmic with military calls and increasing agitation, illustrates the defeat at the siege at Bataan – hints of La Valse, maybe, deepen the sense of collapse. There’s a dark-toned Elegy, with the solo cello assuming the declamatory baritone’s role, whilst the Battle Hymn of the Republic is belted out in the strident, grand finale.

McDonald himself directs the forces of the University of Pennsylvania Choral Society in the Songs of Conquest, to texts by Phelps Putnam. These fascinating unaccompanied settings reflect another side of McDonald’s oeuvre as they draw on earlier musical models and traditions; the sound is not therefore contemporary in the way that the Double Piano Concerto is. The melancholic cast of the second setting is especially noteworthy. Two small, light-hearted works finish this recital. Firstly, there is the bubbly Old School arrangement of music from John Christopher Smith, freely transcribed by McDonald, somewhat in the fashion of Handel-Harty, or Purcell-Barbirolli. Second, there is the Children’s Symphony. Recorded post-war in 1948, with McDonald directing the Philadelphia Orchestra in brasher sound, this is a quilt of popular tunes couched in helpfully compressed symphonic structure. Baa, Baa, Black Sheep and London Bridge is Falling Down are only two of the old friends you will encounter in this 'Young Person’s Guide to the Symphony'.

The excellent transfers bring the music to life in the best possible way.

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