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Morton Gould (1913-1996)
Spirituals for String Choir and Orchestra
Interplay for Piano and Orchestra
Latin American Symphonette – 2nd and 3rd movements
London Symphony Orchestra/Walter Susskind
Morton Gould And His Orchestra
rec. 1958, Everest Records - Spirituals transferred from a 15ips 2-track tape; 1960, RCA - Interplay and Latin American Symphonette transferred from a RCA 4-track tape
Auditioned as 24/192 FLAC digital download

This is the second HDTT release that I have reviewed of recordings that have been favourite ones of mine for a long while. I refer you to the first review, that of Leonard Bernstein conducting his own music, for explanation of my reasons for choosing these.

Back in my teens I had rather a thing for Aaron Copland’s music. As a consequence, one birthday I was given an Everest recording of his Appalachian Spring Suite performed by Walter Susskind and the LSO. That recording – it turns out – is very good indeed but the revelation for me was the “filler” on the second side – Morton Gould’s Spirituals for String Choir and Orchestra. I have loved Gould’s multi-faceted music ever since. Curiously for such an attractive and appealing work these Spirituals [not to be confused with his Spirituals for Strings or Symphony of Spirituals] have had only a handful of recordings over the years but to my mind this Susskind/LSO version remains the finest by some distance – the most recent Naxos offering especially wan – although Gould’s own recording with the Chicago SO is also excellent. Perhaps its lack of attention is that the work is too serious to be light but too light to be serious. Susskind’s particular skill is to play it for all its worth whether humorous or dramatic or just down-right exciting. In other words he plays it on its merits and the LSO respond with brilliance and virtuosity and not a little passion. All of which is again very well caught in the HDTT transfer. Again this 1958 recording has been transferred here from a commercial 15 ips two-track tape.

Over the years much of the Everest back catalogue has been recycled onto CD. These Spirituals appeared on a Bay Cities coupling with Antheil’s Symphony No.4 but then again on a remastered Everest disc which included the original Susskind Appalachian Spring but added William Steinberg’s An American in Paris with the Pittsburgh SO. The latter is a fine and characterful performance but it is for the Gould and Copland that this disc shines. In direct comparison my conclusion was almost identical to the Bernstein disc – the HDTT transfer is very good indeed. Tape hiss is less of an issue and in isolation this is a very well managed transfer. But again the palm goes to the CD remastered version for just that extra touch of clarity and depth. However, it must be said here that the CD version of this Everest disc is not at all easy to find in which case the HDTT download becomes a viable option.

The couplings are taken from an RCA release recorded two years later with Gould conducting “his orchestra” and transferred here from an RCA 4 track tape. They were never in quite such fine sound. They were available on an RCA Victor Gold Seal disc where they were coupled with Gould conducting his Fall Legend Suite and Howard Mitchell conducting the National Symphony Orchestra in Gould’s Declaration Suite. This disc can still be found if you look hard, and again more generous couplings at a lower price have to be a consideration. Interplay is Gould’s piano concerto [the original title is American Concertette] that was almost immediately requisitioned by Jerome Robbins as a ballet. Which is probably why the hard-working pianist gets no credit here (or on the RCA CD either). That said one website lists Gould as both conductor and soloist for this recording. Direct CD to download comparisons reveal quite a difference in Interplay. The HDTT transfer is more forward with a tubbier sound and the piano prone to some distortion. The latter is quite noticeable and certainly impacted my listening enjoyment. The piece itself is typical Gould – rather nervy and distinctly American in feel. The contrast in moods across the four movements are very clear and the appeal for Robbins is easy to divine – the second movement Gavotte has more than echo of Gould’s big “hit” the Pavane from his American Symphonette No.2 and likewise the third movement Blues is instantly attractive. The lack of familiarity of this score is another mystery – again the question of falling between the “light” and “serious” might be the issue – but that is a question for programmers not one about the music’s essential quality or craft. The closing Very Fast is Gould at his exhilarating best again compromised on this HDTT transfer by the high level and accompanying distortion which I assume must be an artefact of the original 4 track tape.

The collection is completed by the middle pair of movements from Gould’s Latin-American Symphonette – a seductive Tango and witty Guaracha. There are no distortion issues here and in fact the sound here is all but identical to the CD release if perhaps just a tad more resonant on this new transfer – and so very good for its age. Quite why Gould did not include the outer movements is frustrating but a question for the original release and not this transfer.

As with the other HDTT releases I have auditioned, potential buyers must balance up the cost against the short runtime and imperfect sound.

Nick Barnard

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