Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Reviews from other months
George Whitefield CHADWICK (1854-1931) Symphonic Sketches, Melpomene Overture, Tam O'Shanter (Symphonic Poem) Czech State PO/Jose Serebrier REFERENCE RECORDINGS RR-64CD [72.25]



George Whitefield CHADWICK (1854-1931) Suite Symphonique, Aphrodite (Symphonic Poem), Elegy Czech State PO/Jose Serebrier REFERENCE RECORDINGS RR-74CD [72.25]



George Whitefield CHADWICK (1854-1931)
Symphonic Sketches (1895-1905) 30.07
Melpomene Overture (1887) 13.03
Tam O'Shanter (Symphonic Poem) (1915) 19.27
Czech State PO/Jose Serebrier
recorded 2-5 April 1995, Stadion Hall, Brno REFERENCE RECORDINGS RR-64CD [62:50]

Suite Symphonique (1909) 35.62
Aphrodite (Symphonic Poem) (1910) 28.18
Elegy (1887) 7.50
Czech State PO/Jose Serebrier
recorded 3-7 June 1996, Stadion Hall, Brno REFERENCE RECORDINGS RR-74CD [72:25]

There was a time when the names of Parker, Chadwick, Gilbert and Beech meant hardly anything except to the dedicated musicologist. These figures and many others from the North American musical renaissance of the period 1880-1920 and beyond had their meed of success during their lifetimes but after that oblivion swept their works away. A similar thing happened to Mackenzie, Tovey, Stanford and Parry.

Of course there are always exceptions and in the world of recordings there have been a few. The Society for the Promotion of the American Musical Heritage (SPAMH) issued many LPs featuring Chadwick and his contemporaries during the 1960s. The names of Karl Krueger and the Royal philharmonic orchestra and the MIA LP prefix will always be associated with that series. There is now some reason to hope that Bridge Records will be reissuing that series on CD. Howard Hanson on Mercury recorded a number of works from this era. In the 1970s the conductor Kenneth Klein conducted the LSO in an interesting collection for EMI. More recently still Albany and Chandos (the latter with the Detroit SO and Neeme Järvi) have been exploring this repertory. Paine's two symphonies have been recorded by New World with Mehta and the NYPO.

Chadwick was forced to leave high school early but through dedication and long hours of study completed studies in German, literature and history. Disinherited he left America and studied with Jadassohn and Reinecke in Leipzig. Later he studied with Rheinberger at Munich. After his three years on the Continent he returned to the States on the staff of the New England Conservatory finally rising in 1897 to the position of Director of the Conservatory.

By 1893 he composed had three works named and numbered as 'Symphony'. A further three multi-movement symphonic scores were to follow: Symphonic Sketches (1895-1905), Sinfonietta in D (1908) and Suite Symphonique (1910). The first and last are recorded on this pair of discs.

Symphonic Sketches is in four movements; each picturesquely titled. Jubilee is Dvorákian and has an eager energy reminiscent of the more demonstrative portions of Dvorák's Fifth and Sixth symphonies. At 3:50 coincidentally a little fanfare figure sounds as if it might have been written in tribute to the New World Symphony. Chadwick is a master coiner of fine themes (try the one at 4:20) and Jubilee ends in blazing glory with savagely sonorous brass. Noel is the second movement and summons through some ripely romantic string and woodwind writing, the spirit of a child's Christmas. Chadwick's son (named Noel) was a year before he started work on this movement. Hobgoblin has dancing woodwind is the least substantial of the four movements. The side-drum and xylophone are used very effectively in a Vagrom Ballad reflecting Chadwick's experience of seeing a down-and-outs encampment. The moods flit and transform constantly. At 6.00 there is a very serious string statement imbued with romantic passion. The movement ends in crashing grandeur which seemed rather dutifully grafted on to an intrinsically very attractive work.

The Melpomene overture is quite Tchaikovskian. In the introduction it is rather like Romeo and Juliet although it does not have the world-conquering themes of the Tchaikovsky work. Instead it has a Brahmsian darkness and some gloriously liquid Slavonic horns at 9.03. If anyone this work sounds rather like Glazunov.

Tam O'Shanter is a major discovery. Banish Arnold's fine comic overture from your mind. This is a serious fantasy symphonic poem. Gales are invoked, horns cut excitingly through the texture and there is some really fine brashly vivacious writing for the horns in this work. Other notable signposts include the sound of woodblocks makes an exotic effect in a wild dance. This is not a comedy overture rather it reflects Mussorgsky's Night on the Bare Mountain and the highly coloured poetry of Rimsky-Korsakov. Although there is a slight skirl and some Scottish flavour there is thankfully nothing of the music-hall Tartan in this music. The work ends in Dvorákian repose.

The second disc plays for almost ten minutes longer. It opens with the symphonic suite. This time there are no gaudy titles for the movements apart from the usual temperament indications. Again the music is rhythmically inventive and varied with some blastingly devastating brass writing. The movement (allegro) ends in heroic tumult. A relaxed Romanza follows with a prominent part for saxophone. The third movement Intermezzo and Humoreske is rhythmically very engaging in a Tchaikovskian way perhaps like Hakon Borresen's first symphony (available on CPO and Marco Polo). The finale deploys the xylophone and has a stamping grand symphonic conclusion. This is a work (and a performance) of distinction, excitement and allure.

The sensuous and the erotic are not what may be expected of the East Coast school. However in his half-hour symphonic poem Aphrodite Chadwick has learnt from Franck's Psyche, a work with which the Chadwick piece has many affinities. The Easterner, from a sternly religious family milieu, has absorbed a Californian approach to life. This is the most voluptuously French piece on the two discs. You can hear the water lapping the shore and all too easily be drawn into a scene from a Mediterranean fantasy by Alma-Tadema. The piece has a good deep-sea theme, foam flecked and wave crashed, breathing blue-green romance. The work has many moments of quietly sensuous poetry and Track 9 is of outstanding beauty.

The Elegy for Horatio Parker is quietly passionate without too much all-purpose 'nobilmente'. It has a sense of anger at loss which tells us that Parker and Chadwick were close friends. This is no formal tribute.

Stephen Ledbetter's excellent notes are a strength of both discs.

Warmly recommended for fine rare repertoire and typically sprung, lively sound with power and subtlety aplenty. If you cannot run to two discs then go for RR74CD.

I trust that Reference have not turned their backs on rare repertoire and I hope they will do more rare and unrecorded Americana. The field is wide open. Meantime enjoy these discs which are perhaps the stronger because of the international input: Uruguayan conductor and Czech orchestra.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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