CHADWICK: Symphony No. 2 in B flat, Op. 21. Symphonic
National Radio Orchestra of Ukraine/Theodore Kuchar, cond.
NAXOS 8.559213 (B) (DDD) TT: 65:47
BLOCH: America (An Epic Rhapsody). Suite hébraïque.
Lucnica Chorus; Hagai Shaham, violin; Atlas Camerata Orch/Slovak Radio Symphony
/ Dalia Atlas, cond
NAXOS 8.557151 (B) (DDD) TT: 62:43
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MILHAUD: La création du monde, Op. 81. Le
boeuf sur le toit,
Op. 58. Suite provençale, Op. 152b. L'homme et
son désir, Op. 48.
Lille National Orch/Jean-Claude Casadesus, cond.
NAXOS 8.557287 (B) (DDD) TT:
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PERSICHETTI: Third Symphony, Op. 30 (1946). Fourth Symphony, Op. 51
(1951). Seventh Symphony, Op. 80 (1958).
Albany Symphony Orch/;David Alan Miller, cond.
TROY 771/72 (F)(2 CDS for price of 1) (DDD) PT: 55:12 & 25:02
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All four of these composers were influential American educators: Chadwick
and Persichetti native-born, Bloch a naturalized citizen in 1924, and
Milhaud a resident immigrant from 1939 to 1971. Their combined teaching
spanned almost a century, beginning with Chadwick’s return to Boston
in 1880 from studies in Leipzig and Munich. Two years later he joined
the faculty of the New England Conservatory in addition to his activities
organist, conductor and composer. In 1897 he became the director and
made it into a modern conservatory until illness forced his retirement
Before the Postwar-One generation made the Parisian atelier of Nadia
Boulanger their destination, with Walter Piston as the Pied Piper (followed
Copland, Virgil Thomson, et al), Chadwick was hailed as America’s
foremost composer of “serious” music, especially for his
Second Symphony (composed over a three-year period, 1883-86) and Symphonic
Sketches (the first two on this disc dating from 1895, then A
Vagrom Ballad the
year after, and Hobgoblin in 1904).
Just two years before Chadwick’s debilitating illness, Ernest Bloch
arrived in the U.S. as conductor of an orchestra for dancer Maud Allen.
The Mannes School in New York City engaged him to teach (1917-19) before
he moved to Cleveland as founder-director of that city’s Institute
of Music (1920-25), and thereafter to San Francisco as director of the
local Conservatory (1925-30). A private grant enabled his return to native
Switzerland on the condition that he devote himself to composing, but World
War Two brought him back to the states where he became professor of music
at UC/Berkeley in 1939. Bloch moved to Oregon in 1943 and taught only summer
courses there until his death in 1959, at the age of 79. His “epic
rhapsody in three parts,” America, was created for a contest sponsored
in 1926 by Musical America magazine, and not only won the $3,000 first
prize but was premiered during a single week in December 1928 by five conductors
who were his judges: Serge Koussevitzky in Boston, Leopold Stokowski in
Philadelphia, Frederick Stock in Chicago, Alfred Hertz in San Francisco,
and Walter Damrosch, whose performance on December 20 with the New York
Symphony is officially credited as the first.
Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) was one of “Le Groupe de Six,” exploited
following World War One by Jean Cocteau, but he’d earlier served
as Paul Claudel’s secretary in Rio de Janeiro, where Brazilian
popular music made a profound impression on his subsequent musical output.
Jew, however, he left France in 1939 and settled in Oakland, California,
where he taught composition at Mills College until 1971, when chronic
ill health forced him to retire; he died three years later in Switzerland.
Of the four works on his disc, three were inspired by Brazilian sources
as well as North American jazz between 1919 and 1923. The Suite Provençale,
incorporating melodies from the area surrounding his birth city of Aix-en-Provence,
was created in 1936 from incidental music for a play based there.
Persichetti was born in Philadelphia in 1915 (the same year as the late
David Diamond) where he died in 1987 of lung cancer. For 40 of his 72
years, however, at the behest of his elder contemporary William Schuman
he commuted to New York as composition professor at The Juilliard School,
where Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Peter (P.D.Q. Bach) Schikele and Jacob
Druckman numbered among his students. He wrote nine symphonies, but like
Schuman withdrew the first two and thereafter favored ordinal numberings.
The three on Albany’s vividly played, brilliantly recorded discs
(two for the price of one) were composed between 1947 and 1958 in Persichetti’s
characteristically fluid yet spicily “traditional” style.
Not for him the anti-tonal avant-garde that dominated European music-making
after World War Two, crossing the Atlantic only to die within three decades.
The Chadwick pieces are genuinely inventive and comprehensively expressive
despite their bygone time and place – ranging from serious subjects
to genuine humor, one and all masterfully scored. The competition on
discs is meager, however, which left Kuchar and his busy Ukranians the
for a gold medal. But while they do handsomely by the Symphony, Symphonic
Sketches tend to be heavy-handed, as if the idiom were altogether
alien and not very interesting at that. Nothing is outright rancid, but
the panache inspired by the Symphony. Still, the recording is solid and
spatially honest, while Naxos’ price can’t be beat by the competition.
Everything weighed, I prefer Kuchar to Neeme Järvi, but cherish Howard
Hanson’s vivid way with the Sketches on a Mercury Living Presence
CD still in the catalog.
Curiously, Bloch’s America sounds more dated than Chadwick’s
Sketches, although his vocabulary was newer by a generation. He prefaced
the work with a verbal tribute to this nation two years after becoming
a citizen, and concluded with a choral anthem to his own text. Part One
is subtitled “1620: The Soil – the Indians – England – the
Mayflower – the Landing of the Pilgrims,” and includes Indian
themes including a Chippewa mourning song, with “Old Hundred” at
the end. Part Two is called “1861-1865: Hours of Joy – Hours
of Sorrow,” then Walt Whitman’s “I hear America singing.” It’s
a virtual pastiche of period music incorporating “Old Folks at Home,” “Pop
Goes the Weasel,” “Hail Columbia,” “John Brown’s
Body, “Dixie,” “The Battle Cry of Freedom” and “Tramp,
Tramp, Tramp” before the Anthem subject (introduced at the end of
Part One) grows in strength before the Chippewa song returns to commemorate
Lincoln’s murder. Part Three is prefaced by the words “1926 – The
Present – The Future,” with another Whitman quote: “As
he sees the farthest he has the most faith.” Previous motifs are
heard in syncopated variants along with Black folksongs until a new section
arrives in a purportedly “mechanized” style, called “The
Turmoil of the Present Time.” A climax leads to “Men, slave
of the Machines,” then a return to the opening of Part One, culminating
in the full Anthem (which never became a part of Americana as Bloch had
hoped and planned). It lacks a distinctively simple melody, although Stokowski
kept it in his repertory, recording it for Vanguard during the ‘60s,
to which Gerard Schwarz added a brisker version for Delos in 1993. Dalia
Atlas favors the rotundities of Stokowski with a heterogeneous assembly
recorded four years ago in Bratislava. The Slovak Radio Symphony is competent
to be sure, although other conductors have inspired finer performances,
and the Luc╝inica Chorus is clear-voiced, although several combinations
of consonants and vowels in English make it necessary to follow the text,
which Naxos has thoughtfully provided. The recording is altogether satisfactory
without gimmickry or spotlighting. But Vanguard did it better 40-or-so
years ago, and the withdrawn Delos still takes the prize sonically.
Suite hébraïque was written in 1951 for either viola
or violin with piano, to thank the Covent Club of Chicago for a festival
of Bloch’s 70th birthday, but he orchestrated it a year later, and
violist Milton Preves played the premiere on January 1, 1953 with Rafael
Kubelik conducting the Chicago Symphony. For a composer who inclined to
be expansive (even long-winded at times), it is a brief work – the
movements, “Rhapsodie,” “Processional” and “Affirmation,” last
only 12:40 altogether. Atlas conducts her eponymous chamber orchestra in
far more congenial repertory, lovingly recorded in Haifa with an excellent
violin soloist, Hagai Shaham. This is no Bloch Violin Concerto from the ‘30s
either in size or in substance, and ends rather abruptly, but does use
Hebrew melodies and is a welcome encore after the patriotic effusions
of America. It all depends, however, on whether you “like” the
featured “epic rhapsody” or, as I do, find it reaching strenuously
for profundity but falling short.
Milhaud was born a dozen years after Bloch, evident both in his subject-matter
and musical method, which favored (if not rooted in) polytonality. The
earliest work here is L’Homme et son desír, Op.
48 of the 443 to which he gave numbers. He composed it in 1917-18 to
scenario based on a story by Claudel for four wordless singers, a dozen
winds and strings, and 15 percussion. Although prompted by the Brazilian
tour of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes during which Nijinsky danced publicly
for the last time, the work waited three years for a failed Parisian premiere
by the Ballets Suédois, although the music was highly and widely
praised as Milhaud’s most “advanced” work. It is as fascinating
as performances are rare, although this one – like the rest on this
disc – is provincially played by the Orchestre National de Lille-Région
Nord, and drily recorded to boot. Next came one of Milhaud’s most
enduringly famous works, Le Boeuf sur le toit, Op. 58, composed
in 1919 for a silent film but a concert success because Cocteau fitted
it to an
episodic scenario, nominally a ballet, with décor by Raoul Dufy.
A randy Brazilian tune serves as a refrain throughout, but the substance
is compositionally sophisticated, not only polytonal in part but encompassing
all 12 major keys. La Création du Monde, Op. 81a, followed
in 1920 after Milhaud heard an American jazz band in London, and later
Harlem during a visit to the U.S. He conceived it as a ballet based on
African myth about the world’s creation, originally scoring it for
17 players featuring an alto saxophone solo. The Swedish Ballet had a Paris
failure with this, too, in 1923 but the score took on a life of its own
and remains Milhaud’s most played work. Interestingly, his own
tempo was a minute under 16, but a 20-minute version by Kent Nagano and
Opera Orchestra on Erato is irresistible with its langorous pacing of
a recurring lyrical melody, each time more richly scored, while the decade-old
recording has a luster undimmed by the passing of time. Finally there
is Suite provençale, Op. 152d, vastly more charming than
this lumpish performance might suggest. No one who has heard Charles
recording with the Boston Symphony – sadly out-of-print at this writing – will
have a kind word for Jean-Claude Casadesus’ conducting or the lackluster
playing of his northern orchestra shared by Lille and Calais. Not even
a livlier acoustic could bring it to life, more’s the pity because
orchestral Milhaud is under-represented in our current time.
Of Persichetti, let me say his music is beguiling if not quite indelible,
but David Alan Miller and the Albany Symphony -- in another of those superb
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall recordings -- do for these three symphonies
what they have done in the past for Kurka, Thomson and a host of other
American composers who wrote during the 20th century but have been, by
and large, both overlooked and neglected since. Bravo, Albany!
R.D. (August 2005)