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George ANTHEIL (1900-1959)
Archipelago (Rhumba) (1935) [6:01]
Symphony No.3 American (1936-41, rev. 1946) [24:47]
Hot-Time Dance (American Dance Suite No.1; Election Dance) (1948) [4:33]
Symphony No.6 after Delacroix (1947-48, rev. 1949-50) [26:12]
Spectre of the Rose - Waltz (1946, re-orch. 1947) [4:53]
BBC Philharmonic/John Storgårds
rec. 2018, MediaCity UK, Salford
CHANDOS CHAN10982 [66:52]

This is not the wild and wacky Antheil in the phalanx of shock troops of the 1920s alongside Luening, Cowell and Ornstein. Oh no - this is Antheil in total immersion in the super-confident American continent, north and south. It's the second volume in Chandos' Antheil series (Volume 1: Lace, Greenbank, Clements). The music here is all tonal and overtly American - the blood-line traces its way to Antheil from, say, today's Michael Daugherty and before that Del Tredici. It's in the same hemisphere but different. My blundering overview of what can be heard here will take you to Hollywood, a North American's perspective on South America and big-hearted Americana of the 1930s and 1940s.

It's easy to get lost in the variants, revisions, alternatives and intricate provenance of the Antheil symphonies but after this there is presumably one more CD to go to complete the Antheil cycle of six symphonies. Is there is a proposal to include the 1947 Violin Concerto which was premiered that year by Werner Gebauer with Dorati conducting in Dallas? Incidentally the tracing of Antheil's symphonic lineage is explained very clearly in Mervyn Cooke's full and unpadded liner-note. The essay is in English, German and French. The sound captured by producer Mike George and engineer Stephen Rinker is that nice Chandos balance of full-on and silky detail. Their work is fully a match for the BBC Philharmonic and conductor John Storgårds, who, as we know, do not shrink from including Antheil in public concerts (review review).

To the music …. Archipelago is the earliest piece here. It's an unrepentantly Hollywood neon gaudy, sashays and sways worthy of Carmen Miranda and catchy rhumba rhythms. You half expect to see Groucho Marx stalk in brandishing a cigar and doling out a devastating repertoire of one-liners. It has the same high wattage dazzle as one of Peter Maxwell Davies's rare excursions into light music: Mavis in Las Vegas on Naxos and originally Collins. The Third Symphony departs Southern climes but does not move far from Hollywood. Its title is faithful to the sound of the music. The extravagance of the ideas and their treatment is completely in step with what you might expect from a film world habitué. It's quite a compact four-movement work so your attention is unlikely to drift. The first movement shows a composer with an easy melodic faculty and a nice line in super-clear orchestration. This is completed with a dazzling sunset. The second movement has a touch of both the Ivesian hymnal and of Shenandoah although memories of old Vienna keep falling into and out of focus. The Golden Spike is a call and response to action: a whirling Ivesian harvest barn-dance. This precedes a finale of swirling and pattering energy not dissimilar to Prokofiev. Antheil has his magic winged sneakers on and shows the same grandeur as he achieved in the score for the film The Pride and the Passion 1957); it's strange that that film score has not been recorded except for a rather pricey OST album. Chandos should consider an Antheil film music CD.

Hot-Time Dance has the kletzmer wail (clarinetist Colin Bradbury does not hold back) and opulent hurly-burly of Bernard Herrmann's music for the polling scenes in Citizen Kane or the burly episodes in The Magnificent Ambersons. The Sixth Symphony owes its title and first movement to the iconic image by Delacroix of "Liberty leading the people" (1830). It dates from Antheil's heyday with its first performance under Monteux coming just five weeks after the Fifth was premiered by Ormandy in Philadelphia in December 1948. Antheil starts with the sensation of the tension being gradually tightened before the smoke of battle through which Liberty bellows and strides, bloodied but unbowed. The piccolo calls up a storm of murderous energy. True, there are little echoes of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 but what can you expect: it was in the air after the then-recent competition among the American conductors to give the Continent's premiere. The Antheil has a big, big American sound but also dips its big toe in Tin Pan Alley. After a dreamy, contrasting and nostalgic Andante comes an, at first, very Shostakovichian finale. There's oompah magnificence from a great brass bench and the whole orchestra contributes to uprolling coasters of sound. The disc ends with the third of three short pieces on this disc: Spectre of the Rose. This sensitive waltz bows towards the examples of Ravel (La Valse) but will also please those who already like Barber's Souvenirs, Geoffrey Toye's The Haunted Ballroom and Sondheim's A Little Night Music. The harp has a ball. This gorgeous music was written for the Ben Hecht film, Specter of the Rose.

By the bye, we should not forget Naxos's CD of symphonies 4 and 5 (review review). There are also isolated symphonies to be heard here and there: Goossens' pioneering Everest recording of the Fourth Symphony, not to mention Stokowski's premiere on Pristine or Barry Kolman's Centaur disc. That said, Chandos remains the elite choice.
Rob Barnett



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