Mystic Trumpeter. Flivver Ten
Million. Endymion's Narrative.
SERRA: Puigsoliu (Symphonic Poem - orch. Brotons).
Rural Impressions. Variations for Piano and Orchestra. RomÓntica. Two
Again we are indebted to Naxos for recordings of neglected music in performances that make us want to hear more. Frederick Shepherd Converse was born in Newton, Massachusetts Jan. 5, 1871 and died in Westwood, Massachusetts June 8, 1940. After graduating summa cum laude from musical studies at Harvard, he attempted a business career but his interest in music took precedence. After studying composition with George Chadwick in Boston and Joseph Rheinberger in Munich, his orchestral works received considerable recognition. His 1905 opera The Pipe of Desire was the first American opera given at the Metropolitan. According to Seltzam's Metropolitan Opera Annals, the premiere was March 18, 1910 with Alfred Hertz conducting and a cast including Louise Homer in the role of Naoia; there was a second performance March 24th. Apparently The Pipe of Desire is a rather short opera - at the premiere it was followed by Pagliacci, and at the second performance it was paired with Cavalleria Rusticana and a ballet by Glazounov called Hungary (danced by Pavlova and Mordkin).
Converse is remembered mostly for his orchestral tone poems. Unquestionably the major composition of the three presented here, Endymion's Narrative dates from 1900 and is based on the Keats poem that begins, "A Thing of beauty is a joy for ever." Actually it is the second of two works written that year based on the poem; the first was The Festival of Pan, Op. 9. This 20-minute rhapsodic symphonic poem effectivively depicts "the spiritual struggles to which a man is subject, whether it be found in the life of an artist, a patriot or a martyr." Flivver Ten Million was written in 1927. The full title is: Flivver Ten Million: A Joyous Epic Inspired by the Familiar Legend "The Ten Millionth Ford is Now Serving Its Owner." "Flivver" is American slang for Ford's inexpensive production-line automobiles. There are eight colorful connected sections: Dawn in Detroit (sunrise over the city), The Call to Labor (the auto workers report to work), The Din of the Builders (factory noises), The Birth of the Hero - He Tries His Metal (the car wanders off into the great world in search of adventure), May Night by the Roadside (America's Romance), The Joy Riders - America's Tragedy (poignant, sad intonations), and Phoenix Americanus - The hero, righted and shaken, proceeds on his way with redoubled energy, typical of the indomitable spirit of America. The ending is rather strange; it sort of just stops without an appropriate conclusion. The Mystic Trumpeter, based on Whitman's Leaves of Grass, has five connected sections: Mystery and Peace, Love, War and Struggle, Humiliation and Joy.
There are no American masterpieces here. Converse obviously is a master orchestrator, but this music, while always pleasant, sometimes intensely emotional - and sometimes pretty - generally is forgettable as well. Surely Flivver doesn't approach the inspiration of Honegger's Pacific 231 which inspired it, and Holst's treatment of The Mystic Trumpeter (heard on another superb Naxos CD), is infinitely superior to Converse's. All of these are not premiere recordings; Endymion and Flivver were recorded many years ago by Jorge Mester and the Louisville Orchestra, now reissued on Albany. I haven't heard these performances but they would have to be stunning to equal what is heard on the Naxos issue with the Buffalo Philharmonic in top form under their brilliant music director, JoAnn Falletta, rightfully recognized as one of the leading younger conductors of our time, male or female. Ms. Falletta does all that can be done for these unfamiliar scores - everything sounds just right. Naxos' sound is state-of-the-art. The only negative feature on this CD is that Naxos did not supply tracks for the different sections of each work,
Joachim Serra (1907-1957) is represented in the last Schwann/Opus solely by a Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello composed in 1926. Hats off to Naxos for this issue in their Spanish Classics Series offering what apparently are premiere recordings of Puigsoliu, a suite of five Rural Impressions (Dawn, Children Playing, Beneath the Pines, The Valley of Echoes and F═te), Variations for Orchestra and Piano, Romantica and Two Symphonic Sketches (Gypsy Dance and Andalucian F═te). No question that the major work is Variations, which won a prize at the 1931 Concepciˇ Rabell Foundation competition. After an evocative clarinet opening we hear five colorful variations, well played by pianist Emili Brugalla. Lots of arpeggios, lush sound, rather like a '50s film score. Puigsoliu (the composer's final work), originally written for cobla - the typical, usually eleven-member Catalan band - is here heard in an orchestration by conductor Salvador Brotons, who realized this colorful score would benefit from richer orchestration. The brief (2:18) "Valley of Echoes," is quite intriguing with its muted trumpet repetitions. Serra's music apparently is quite well-known in his native Catalonia in the Northeast of Spain. It's pleasant to have the opportunity to hear some of his music in fine, authoritative performances by El Vall╦s Symphony Orchestra under their music director, Salvador Brotons. Naxos' engineering is fine.
R.E.B. (August 2002)