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Arthur FARWELL (1872–1952)
String Quartet, Op. 65, The Hako (1922) [17:47]
Three Indian Songs, Op. 32 (1908) [8:23]
Four Indian Songs, Op. 102: (No. 3. Pawnee Horses) (1937) [2:02]
From Mesa and Plain, Op. 20: (No. 2. Pawnee Horses) (1905) [1:09]
Navajo War Dance No. 2, Op. 29 (1904) [3:46]
Dawn, Fantasy on Two Indian Themes, Op. 12 (1901) [6:15]
Impressions of the Wa-Wan Ceremony of the Omahas, Op. 21 (eight pieces) (1905) [13:28]
Dakota String Quartet
University of Texas Chamber Singers
William Sharp (baritone)
Emanuele Arciuli (piano)
rec. 2019-20, Washington’s National Cathedral; Augustana University, USA

Arthur Farwell is by no means America's only neglected composer. There are plenty more. For a scant start I would mention Cecil Effinger, Arnold Rosner, Edward Burlingame Hill, Edgar Stillman Kelley, Philip Greeley Clapp and Charles Martin Loeffler.

That said, Farwell, whose passions encompassed Native Indian lore and its interaction with Western streams and forms, has much to communicate. His heritage, once borne aloft by his own Wa-Wan Press, is by no means restricted to Indianist allegiances. He did not abandon the symphony and tone poem. One of these days his homerically-proportioned Rudolph Gott symphony will be revived again. As for his Lord Dunsany-based tone poem The Gods of the Mountain, it can be heard on CD conducted by Karl Krueger. His piano music - three volumes so far - is surveyed in depth on Toccata. Naturally he is represented, alongside Cadman and Gilbert, on Dario Müller’s Marco Polo CDs (8.223715 and 8.223738) of music by the ‘American Indianists’.

Turning to the present disc, the 20-minute String Quartet The Hako (1922), in one movement, is the most extended of this composer’s ‘Indianist’ compositions. It is said to be inspired by the “Hako ceremony of the Great Plains tribes of the Pawnee Nation, a celebration of the symbolic union of father and son to maintain peace and fertility in the cosmos.” The playing by the Dakota String Quartet engages without compromise in a score that is dense, tumultuous and lacily thoughtful. Strangely enough it reminded me of a sort of joyous amalgam of Dvořák’s ‘American’ Quartet and John Foulds’ Quartetto Intimo; indeed, the Dakotas bring to this reading the sort of ebullience with which the Endellions invest the Foulds’ score. Of course, the Foulds is distributed across a much larger time-frame than the Farwell but the essence is at times uncannily similar. The Hako is vigorously and imaginatively performed by the Dakota Quartet who give it its premiere recording.

Paralleling the pursuits of Bartók, Grainger, Holst and Vaughan Williams, Farwell travelled widely and noted down many native melodies. They struck deeply within his creative self. The Three Indian Songs are vividly sung and played by Sharp and Arciuli. Depth of characterisation and flavour is brought in the form of some dramatic climactic singing. This is moderated only slightly by the tremor in Sharp’s voice.

The a cappella choral piece (Pawnee Horses) is even more remarkable. It is sung with an otherworldly vocally flailing energy. A same-titled piece can be heard in a flood-driven solo piano essay written thirty years before the choral item. From the same decade (the 1900s) comes a sequence of piano solos including the enchanting starry meditation entitled Dawn, Fantasy on Two Indian Themes; presumably it’s a coincidence that Griffes wrote a piece for string quartet entitled Two sketches based on Indian Themes. These short solos are accorded a consistently dreamy reading by Emanuele Arciuli, especially the eight under the title “Impressions of the Wa-Wan Ceremony of the Omahas” (Receiving the Messenger; Nearing the Village; Song of Approach; Laying Down the Pipes; Raising the Pipes; Invocation; Song of Peace; Choral). Arciuli picks up on the incantatory and sometimes impressionistic essence of these works yet imbues them with a light-touch sentimental accent. They are a chilly step outward and upward from the homely salon delights of MacDowell’s music (which itself includes Indian themes).

Naxos provide good notes - even if they are overly entangled in the coils of contemporary and recent ethnic politics. The music can - and does - stand on its own two feet. The sung words are printed. It’s only a shame that this strongly recorded disc runs to just over 54 minutes. More Farwell would have been welcome.

Rob Barnett

Previous review: Curt Cacioppo

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