GRUENBERG: Symphony No. 2, Op. 43.
"Marcia" from Serenade to a Beauteous Lady. The Enchanted
Isle, Op. 11
This CD gives premiere recordings of three Gruenberg works, funded partially by the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music in the Free Library of Philadelphia. The major work is Symphony No. 2, Op. 43 composed in 1943, revised in 1959 and 1963 but not performed until 1965. The first section ("A broad expansive movement") is the longest (11:43), followed by the second ("Langsam und aushaltend") and third ("Fantasievoll"). Why these two are identified in German is not explained. Serenade to a Beauteous Lady was composed in 1934. "Marcia," heard here, is the last of five sections (the others are Polonaise, Galop, Valse and Allegretto). The Enchanted Isle is the second of a series of tone-poems written during the First World War "in an attempt to make a world somewhat pleasanter than the one existing then." Isle was first performed in Massachusetts in 1929 and was awarded the second American prize in the International Schubert Centennial Contest sponsored by the Columbia Phonograph Company. The composer revised the work in 1933.
Listening to these works is a rather frustrating experience. There is no question that Gruenberg knows the orchestra; however he has little memorable to say. There are little snippets of ideas appearing profusely in both the symphony and tone-poem, often momentarily appealing but little is done with them. Melodic invention does not seem to be a part of Gruenberg's style. I've listened four times to this CD and little remains in the mind. There's nothing here to match the originality -- and tunes -- written by George Antheil or George Frederick McKay, to mention just two other American composers of the same era. The Czech Orchestra under Paul Freeman's direction does well with what obviously is totally unfamiliar repertory. The recordings were made September 1999 - March 2001 in ICN Recording Studios in Prague with Jan Kotzmann as Chief Engineer. The sound does not flatter the performances; it is unresonant; even the bass drum in the odd March that is part of the Serenade doesn't have much impact. It is admirable that we have the opportunity to hear this music to know what it sounds like. Speaking of Gruenberg, Carleton Sprague Smith said in The New Grove Dictionary of Music, "If he left no masterpiece, several of his works are fine expressions of his time and place." He was being rather kind.