Composer and water-colour artist, George Templeton
Strong was born in New York in May 1856 but spent the greater part of his life
in Europe settling in Switzerland after a period of study in Germany. His music
is strongly associated with the Late Romantic tradition. Adriano, so often
associated with this genre of music, and film music, is an enthusiastic champion
of his work. In fact, as usual, Adriano has written his own full and scholarly
programme notes and has edited one of the pieces – the Oriental Procession from
Suite No. 3 of the Notebook of Sketches.
Templeton Strong's Symphonic Poem Ondine is
influenced by Liszt and Wagner with hints of Dvorak and Schumann. Highy dramatic
– nay melodramatic – it is scored for a normal sized orchestra although the
composer's sonorities make the ensemble sound much larger. The musical programme
of Templeton Strong's Ondine loosely conforms to the traditional story
line of Undine (Ondine). The opening section tells of her peaceful early forest-life.
(She had been a foundling, fostered by a fisherman and his wife. As a child,
she had thrown herself into the water and had returned to the forest after living
for sixteen years as a water nymph.) By marrying a human being, she hopes to
regain her human soul. A prolonged clarinet solo expresses her playful child-like
nature. This is interrupted by the arrival of the knight Huldebrande. Templeton
Strong gives him an arrogant, strident brass motif. Indeed, the composer grasps
every opportunity to show off his precocious skills as an excellent brass writer
throughout this work. From thence the drama moves forward using these basic
themes, together with a sweeping love theme to relate a story of jealousies,
misunderstandings leading to a tragic conclusion. Ondine sacrifices her Huldebrande
to a rival; but transformed into a water nymph again, she rises out of a fountain
during the wedding service to claim the knight only to have him die in her arms.
This symphonic poem is powerful and entertaining enough and Adriano's players
relish its romance and drama but the strength of its material and development
is barely enough to sustain its length.
From a Notebook of Sketches originated as piano duets in the early 1890s and orchestrated
in the early 1940s. These orchestrations often involved considerable melodic
and harmonic changes reflecting "an old composer's nostalgia and smiling
detachment from his early work….Excerpts from the first and third suites, performed
by the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, conducted by Ernest Ansermet, were first
broadcast in 1941." A little later, the Suite No. 1 was performed by the
same artists but complete versions of the other two suites were never performed,
so this recording marks a complete world premiere performance.
Suite No. 1 opens with an Ecologue suggesting a bucolic
sunset twice interrupted by distant (although somewhat too forward on this recording)
mysterious horn calls. Adriano suggests that Templeton-Strong's activities as
a water colourist may have inspired these pieces and the understated delicacy
of this opening nature picture might support this claim. There is something
Delian as well as impressionistic about this little piece. 'The Elves Sound
the Horn' is a delightful quicksilver evocation inspired by an engraving by
Gustav Doré. 'The Cemetery – Sarabande of the Dead' is an effective eerie exercise
in the macabre, not unlike Liszt's Totentanz. 'In the Inn – Nightwatch' is a
bombastic, boozy revel with quieter sections evoking the stillness outside.
The title of Suite No.2 is subtitled Athènes
but the not all these three pieces necessarily refer to Athens. 'The Youth
of Athens', opening movement was originally entitled Babbling and the orchestrations
do suggest the animated discussions of students, albeit with a more reflective
middle section. 'Evening Dance' is a charming intermezzo in a Nordic style,
while the Passacaglia-like 'Entering the Parthenon' nods towards Brahms in its
The pantomime-like Suite No. 3 is inspired by children's
stories. 'Jack the Giant-Killer' opens with horn calls and nature music evoking
forest glades, and is instructed to be played drowsily. A flute solo marks Jack's
awakening (to a playful waltz) and fierce (but not too frightening) battle music
sees the Giant routed by our hero. 'The Dreams of Cinderella' has dissonances
added in the orchestrated version suggesting mysterious caressing and 'cobweb'
dreams; an interesting exercise in harmony and orchestration. Templeton Strong's
final picture is a subtly coloured and drawn 'Oriental Procession' with softer
music than might normally be associated with such a scenario, as if the procession
is seen through a veil. An intimate feminine centre section is contrasted with
more assertive masculine material before the procession recedes into the distance.
Entertaining programme music energetically performed.