CHADWICK: Symphonic SketchesMelpomene Overture. Tam O'Shanter (Symphonic poem). Suite symphonique. Aphrodite. Elegy In Memory of Horatio Parker. 
Czech State Philharmonic Orch; JosČ Serebrier, cond.
REFERENCE REC. RR 2103 (2 CDs) (M) (DDD) TT: 72:25 & 62:50

When in 1998 (or was it '99?) I reviewed the second Chadwick CD in Reference Recordings' recent two-for-one reissue of the composer's music, recorded at Brno in 1995 and '96, I hadn't heard the first one containing [4] Symphonic Sketches, the Melpomene Overture, and that delightfully antic Tam O'Shanter symphonic poem - nearly 63 minutes of music. Now it has been heard with much pleasure - the Czech State Philharmonic at Brno is indeed one of central Europe's best, and JosČ Serebrier conducts them with exemplary finesse - and the two discs provide an even more comprehensive portrait of America's major "classical" composer of his time (1854-1931). Ives followed 20 years later, but the two had virtually nothing in common, although both were of New England stock (Chadwick dated back to the Pilgrims) and both worked in insurance (Chadwick unhappily until he defied his actuarial parent and studied music abroad).

Now comes a chockful CD from Naxos, recorded in Nashville during March and June two years ago, which includes Chadwick's two other "muse" overtures: Thalia from 1883 and Euterpe from 1903, as well as Melpomene composed in 1887. Conductor Kenneth Schermerhorn (Nashville's music director since 1983) adds the first recording of Chadwick's last orchestral work, The Angel of Death, "inspired by a bas-relief carved...for the tomb of Martin Milmore" writes Steven Ledbetter in his notes. Begun in 1917, it was completed on January 3, 1918, after which illness made Chadwick's life sheer misery (although he continued to serve as director of the New England Conservatory until 1930). It is music at once more polished and sophisticated than some of the earlier works for orchestra but nonetheless "traditional" in style and substance. The Naxos disc is filled out with the 1910-11 tone poem Aphrodite, inspired by a head of the goddess in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts - the longest work here, at 28:13 just five seconds quicker than Serebrier's on his second RR disc from 1996.

Not to dismiss what Schermerhorn has continued to build in Nashville, his is both a smaller and more regional-sounding ensemble than Brno's substantially larger and older orchestra. Andrew Jackson Hall in Nashville, when it was new, sounded more spacious, warm, and balanced in a balcony seat I occupied than the close-up, basically flat-featured acoustic produced by Blanton Alspaugh and his engineer John Newton. On RR, "Professor" Keith Johnson has remastered his Stadion Hall recordings from Brno 'using the HDCD process,' which focuses the sound even more, and in the storm scene from Aphrodite threatened to blow out my speakers. What this might sound like on a multi-channel system I have no idea - I'm a stereo-era relic, too old to spend all that money (even if I had it!) on a system that couldn't even remotely compare with R.E.B.'s Rolls-Royce rig.

If Chadwick piques your interest, and one would hope his music does, the RR duopack is essential. But since the Naxos single costs less than half, add it too because you'll hear three more pieces. Amen, over and out.

R.D. (February 2003)