Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

DAVID VAN VACTOR 1906-1994 Symphony No 1* (1937) 22.14  Symphony No 3**(1958) 26.31 Sinfonia Breve** (1958) Recitativo and Saltarello** (1946)  *Frankfurt RSO **Hessian RSO all conducted by the composer CRI AMERICAN MASTERS CD702 [75.17]


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Van Vactor (a native of Plymouth, Indiana) is another US composer completely unknown to many listeners. A flautist who played under Frederick Stock with the Chicago SO he came to prominence as a composer in the 1930s. He conducted the NYPSO in his own first symphony in January 1939 and successes continued well into the 1960s.

The CRI disc valuably anthologises recordings of three of his seven symphonies (an eighth lies unfinished). The first symphony is in four movements of which the first is wind-dominant opening with a Sibelian largo and pitching then into the grotesqueries of the allegro vivace. This has many magical moments including flute solo at 5.12 and the violin solo at 8.14. The second movement's Roy Harris string passages suggest epic journeyings and an accent of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique. The classical poise and cheek of the third movement bridge across to Prokofiev's Classical Symphony. The finale has some dense brass writing and romantic work for the strings.

The post-war Recitative and Saltarello is a work of emotional complexity, slightly icy resembling Sibelius 4. The saltarello bowls along in Sibelian style - neo-classical in liberated energy but rich rather than dried out.

The Third Symphony originally issued as No. 2 on a CRI LP is here in a recording with a strong hiss level. The first movement sports a long melodic line and at 7.26 a Sousa-like finale. The warm concentration of the adagio equates with one of Roy Harris's string psalms (as in symphonies 3, 5 and 7) but with slightly atonal overtones. The brief (3 mins) allegretto is like a dance scene from a ball - prompting thoughts of Prokofiev Classical Symphony. The finale blends elements of naïve jollity, Irishry, stately jigs and Sousa.

The Sinfonia Breve is a dark little study of a symphony in negation closely approaching and vying with the asperities of William Schuman in his most barbed and bitter vein.

These are somewhat elderly recordings and some very slight allowance has to be made for this. On the overwhelming credit side we have recordings of the utmost authority. All of these works repay attentive listening. I would like to hear the remaining van Vactor symphonies. the ones recorded here are accessible and repay repeat listening. The first is an easy approach to this composer.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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