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Aspects of America: Pulitzer Edition
Walter PISTON (1894-1976)
Symphony No.7 (1960) [23:41]
Morton GOULD (1913-1996)
Stringmusic (1993) [25:35]
Howard HANSON (1896-1981)
Symphony No.4, Op.34, “Requiem” (1943)
Oregon Symphony/Carlos Kalmar
rec. live 2017/18, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland, USA
PENTATONE PTC5186763 [71:08]

This CD contains live recordings of three works, each of which won the Pulitzer Prize, which is an award for achievements in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, literature, and musical composition in the United States.

The Piston 7th Symphony won in 1961. It was written with the sonic character of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s renowned rich string textures in mind, and so presents a challenge to any orchestra today. Since his death in 1976, Piston’s music has fallen out of the minds of concert programmers, but it would seem that his 1959 New England Sketches make an occasional appearance. This symphony is tonal, with an energetic, rhythmically complex first movement featuring a long, soaring theme of propulsive rhythm that lends the movement a decidedly passionate character. The second, Adagio Pastorale, is a serious affair, featuring solos for English horn and solo flute. The final movement, in common with the finale of other Piston symphonies, is colourful, energetically impactive, and ends in jubilation.

Morton Gould’s Stringmusic was composed for his friend Mstislav Rostropovitch and showcases all the sounds and colours of a string orchestra. The composer wrote: “I have been especially concerned with contrasts in terms of colour and texture … frequently suggesting two separate orchestras. Frequently, I have one section playing entirely pizzicato, while the other plays arco. Stringmusic is a lyrical work ….”

The composer certainly achieves variety; the second movement is a Tango, with a very pronounced rhythm, followed by a languorous, almost voluptuous episode for four violins. There is a dirge, whose intense, cortege-like quality is supposed to reflect a prominent part of the personality of Rostropovitch, and then a Ballad, described by the composer as a “lied for string orchestra”. The finale is a moto perpetuo, which is unreservedly jubilant.

Hanson’s 4th Symphony, subtitled “Requiem”, won the prize in 1944. It was composed in memory of his father and it is said that this was his favourite among his seven symphonies. The best known is undoubtedly the second, the “Romantic”, whose voluptuously memorable slow movement contributes to its enduring popularity. The 4th symphony has movements entitled Kyrie, Requiescat, Dies irae and Lux aeterna. The first has an almost prayerful quality, with a most aptly beautiful, almost choral line of sound. The Lux Aeterna has wondrous orchestral climaxes, which are moving rather than exciting, most appropriately so, given the subject. The Dies Irae tempers the normal angry thunder with a degree of restraint, but it is apt, given the overall character of the work. I must say that of the three symphonies presented here, my favourite is the Hanson. It is several years since I last heard it, and I have much enjoyed making its acquaintance once more.

The live recordings are of excellent quality, lending a bloom and depth to the sound, and the strings shine in the Gould piece. The booklet is informative, both biographically and musically.

Jim Westhead

Previous review: John Quinn

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