ANTHEIL:  Ballet MÈcanique.  Serenade for String Orchestra, No. 1.  Symphony for Five Instruments. Concert for Chamber Orchestra.
Philadelphia Virtuosi Chamber Orch/Daniel Spalding, cond.
NAXOS 8.559060 (B) (DDD) TT:  59:05

The major interest here is Ballet MÈcanique, the work that created riots in Paris at its premiere at the Theatre Champs ÉlysÈes in June 1926.  Now considered to be one of the most important works of the 20th Century, this music disappeared from the concert scene for four decades after its first performance, and for good reason.  Aside from its challenging musical ideas, it calls for sixteen synchronized player pianos as well as aeroplane propellors, siren and a large battery of percussion.  Antheil revised the score in 1953 with lighter scoring and a Columbia recording was made at the time.  Maurice Peress found the original score, presented it in Carnegie Hall in July 1989 (recreating the entire program of the premiere), and recorded it for MusicMasters (67094), a spectacular achievement in every way -- unfortunately no longer in the catalog.

Spaulding and his fine ensemble play the truncated 1953 revision which is but a shadow of the original.  Playing time is 15:58; the RCA/BMG  recording with HK Gruber and the Ensemble Modern (68066) takes but 14:28.  The Peress recording of the original score is 26:52 -- another reason why the latter must be reissued.  It is the only way to get the full impact of Antheil's stunning score. 

The three other works on this CD were written for smaller ensemble.  Serenade for String Orchestra, from 1948, is highlighted by an expressive brooding second movement, longest of the three.  For whatever reason, Antheil called his 1924 work for five instruments a "symphony."  In this twelve-minute piece  (presented in its second version), as pointed out by Joshua Cheek in his fine CD notes, we hear traces of Stravinsky, just as in Serenade there are suggestions of Shostakovich.  Concert (called "concerto" on the Gruber recording) started life as an Octet for Winds.  Marked by dissonance, it was commissioned by the League of Composers and first performed in 1932.

Performances are expert in every way, recorded sound clear and perhaps a bit overly dry. There's much of interest here, but if you want to hear MÈchanique in its unbridled outrageousness try to find the Peress version.  It's unfortunate Naxos didn't include a few other Antheil chamber works on their CD:  59:05 is rather modest playing time, but then this is a budget CD.

R.E.B. (Feb. 2002)