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American Pioneers
Arthur FOOTE (1853-1937)
Suite in E Op.63 (1907) for string orchestra [17.12]
George ANTHEIL (1900-1959)
Serenade for string orchestra (1948) [17.18]
Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Hymn: Largo cantabile for string orchestra (1904) [3.11]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Appalachian Spring: Ballet for Martha Suite, version for 13 instruments [26.01]
Ciconia Consort/Dick van Gasteren
rec. Palaiskerk, The Hague, 6-9 July 2020

Least known of the composers represented on this attractive anthology is probably Arthur Foote, yet he was a significant figure in the development of American classical music. A student of John Knowles Paine, he had the honour of receiving the first Masters degree in music awarded by an American University. He was also among the audience for the first Ring cycle, in 1876 at Bayreuth. His voice is undoubtedly shaped by the German tradition (as was true of so many composers of the time) and he lacks some of the originality of his contemporaries in the ‘Boston Six’ – the others included Amy Beach and Edward MacDowell. Most of his works were for chamber groups, and are well-worth exploring: there is no doubting his technical fluency. (He is perhaps unique among composers in belonging to the Society in Dedham for the Apprehension of Horse Thieves, which is still extant and includes among its former members several Presidents and Pope St. John Paul II.) The Suite is an attractive work, in three movements, the last a fugue. The longer central movement, Pizzicato and Adagietto, is the most immediately attractive, putting me in mind of the ‘Playful Pizzicato’ of Britten’s Simple Symphony.

Antheil can be a forbidding composer, sometimes a little too much the enfant terrible in using sounds as unusual as aircraft propellers and sirens. But in later years his work softened, as in this delightful, romantic three-movement Serenade. One senses a mellowness and a gift for melody, and, as a whole, it is thoroughly worth exploring: a little charmer.

For me, any Ives is a treat, and the three-minute Hymn is a lovely little piece in his earlier, less experimental style, warm and appealing. Beginning in the double bass, slightly grimly, it opens into broader and generous writing with a sustained nobility.

The best-known work is the Suite from Appalachian Spring, in the original form for 13 instruments. The reason for the very limited orchestra was that the original venue, the Library of Congress, had a pit that accommodated only 13 players, a number retained for the first version of the original suite, recorded here. One of the advantages of this reduction, compared with the lusher suite for full orchestra, is that it brings out the angularity of much of the writing. It is sometimes forgotten that the title of the ballet was given only after Copland had completed the score: Appalachia was not his inspiration. I think that angularity is slightly softened here – it is interesting to compare this recording with the slightly more edgy performance by the composer of the complete ballet (Dutton Epoch CDLX7366). Fine as the new recording is, Copland does give us the complete ballet, which is only 8 minutes longer than the suite, and could have been fitted on this CD.

The Ciconia Consort, resident at the Hague, are a fine ensemble, and this collection will not disappoint.

Michael Wilkinson

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