American Romantics II
Gowanus Arts Ensemble/Reuben Blundell
rec. 2017, Douglass Studios, Brooklyn, New York
NEW FOCUS RECORDINGS FCR166B [64:20]
This is, as the title suggests, the second volume in a series that focuses on works for string orchestra by turn of the century (the twentieth that is) American composers, few of whom you will know, I suspect. Foster, Foote, Chadwick and Cadman were the ones I recognised; even then, the former’s two pieces are arrangements.
A decade or so ago, Naxos released six volumes of English String Miniatures; if you enjoyed them, the selection here will be very much to your taste. They are mostly at the gentle end of the spectrum, and are bookended in lovely fashion by arrangements of Swanee River and My Old Kentucky Home. There are no lost masterpieces here: all are pleasant and relatively insubstantial, but nevertheless welcome. Perhaps not surprisingly, given that Chadwick does have a small presence in the catalogue, his Intermezzo is perhaps the best work, but I quite liked Cadman’s To a Vanishing Race and Borowski‘s Sérénade.
I was brought up to believe that “if you can’t say something good about someone, don’t say anything at all”. It isn’t really an adage that works for a reviewer, but I am going to apply a somewhat modified version of it here. The booklet notes say nothing about the ten players other than providing their names, but some Googling suggests that the Gowanus Arts Ensemble is a group from the neighbourhood of that name in Brooklyn, New York. That being so, I assume they are amateurs, and as such, I am prepared to be kinder in my comments about their playing than I would be for a professional group. Intonation is often less than perfect, and ensemble frequently breaks down. There is no question that this diminishes the listening pleasure. Referring back to that adage, let me say that there is no doubt about their commitment to and enthusiasm for this project. Other aspects of the production are all one could expect; the booklet notes are exemplary.
I should note that Rob Barnett, in his
review of Volume 1, did not report any issues with the playing.
If you are a stickler for playing standards, then you will need to look elsewhere … but given these are all world premieres, you will be looking for a long while. My recommendation: moderate your expectations of the playing, and just enjoy the music.
Stephen Foster (1826-1864)
Old Folks at Home (arr. Carl Busch) [5:29]
Félix Borowski (1872-1956)
Suite Rococo [9:06]
George Chadwick (1854-1931)
Arthur Foote (1853-1937)
Theme and Variations [10:37]
Paul Miersch (1868-1956)
Cradle song [3:02]
Ethelbert Nevin (1862-1901)
La Guitare (arr. Paul Miersch) [2:21]
Edgar Kelly (1857-1944)
Martinus van Gelder (1854-1941)
Lingac Boatsong [2:09]
Bernardus Boekelman (1838-1930)
In Solitude (1888) [5:20]
Louis Lombard (1861-1927)
Arthur Bird (1856-1923)
Valse menuett [3:02]
Charles Cadman (1881-1946)
To a Vanishing Race [2:31]
My Old Kentucky Home (arr. Carl Busch) [5:12]