BARBER String Quartet (inc. original finale). Serenade. Dover Beach . HANSON String Quartet. Concerto da Camera . R. THOMPSON Alleluia (trans. Ying Qt)

BARBER String Quartet (inc. original finale). Serenade. Dover Beach . HANSON String Quartet. Concerto da Camera . R. THOMPSON Alleluia (trans. Ying Qt) ● Ying St Qt; Randall Scarlata (bar) Adam Neiman (pn) ● SONO LUMINUS DSL-92166 (74:02) [Package includes Blu-ray surround sound audio disc in addition to standard CD]

This is the latest release from the remarkable Ying Quartet. As indicated in the headnote above, the package consists of not only a standard compact disc, but also a Blu-ray surround sound audio disc (the latter of which, unfortunately, I am not equipped to sample). Let me say at the outset that the sound quality of the conventional CD is extraordinarily full, rich, and clear.

The program of this new release comprises music by three American neo-romantic composers not generally known for their chamber music. That makes this rather unusual among string quartet recordings. In truth, all three composers are “old school” romantics, in that rather than impressing the listener with formal felicities and ingenuities, the music’s appeal relies chiefly on the sheer lovability of its material, while structural matters often fall by the wayside. Thus one must admit that this recording displays both Barber’s and Hanson’s formal weaknesses, although listeners who are sympathetic to their expressive objectives may be able to overlook such shortcomings.

Samuel Barber is represented here by three works: his early Serenade, Op. 1, performed regularly either as a string quartet or in a version for string orchestra; Dover Beach, Op. 3, which I consider to be Barber’s first truly great work; and the ever-popular String Quartet, Op. 11, in its final form, while also including the original third movement he had written for the work, but dropped several years later, in favor of the short recapitulation of the first movement with which he replaced it.

Barber composed the brief 8-minute Serenade when he was 18, and still a student at the Curtis Institute. It is a pale and moody piece, largely reflective in tone, with a central movement that almost calls early Berg to mind. But the final movement is a minuet whose material is rather trivial, resulting in a flimsy overall impression. But the performance by the Ying Quartet is as refined and impeccable as anyone might wish.

Barber composed his setting of Matthew Arnold’s well-known poem Dover Beach in 1931, when he was 21. The text clearly prompted a deeply sympathetic response from the composer, as its anxious, pessimistic view of the unknown future reverberated with his own melancholy temperament. The first recording of the work, made in 1935, featured the composer himself as baritone soloist with the Curtis String Quartet. That recording, still in print from various sources, is irreplaceable both for its historical significance and for its sensitivity and authenticity as a performance. However, there have been a number of fine modern recordings as well. This latest is one of them. Baritone Randall Scarlata has impressed me in the past, and his performance here is exquisite, although the mixing of the recording integrates the voice within the quartet, which makes the text hard to distinguish by ear alone.

The String Quartet has, of course, achieved the status of a “classic,” largely owing to the ubiquitous and widely-beloved slow movement, which, in its transcription for string orchestra, is known as the Adagio for Strings. The Yings do a beautiful job with this movement, moving it along with a duration of 6:52, which effectively mitigates the excessively lachrymose impression that it typically creates when milked for all it’s worth in the elegiac role that has become its fate. The first movement exemplifies Barber’s difficulties in generating a graceful, coherent musical form without the support of a text. Here is a clear case of irresistible material “covering” for a sequence of largely unrelated episodes, awkwardly strung together. Originally, Barber composed a finale of comparable duration to the previous movements, and the Quartet was performed in this form for several years. But the composer was never satisfied with this movement, although many others were quite happy with it. Finally, in 1938, Barber chucked the third movement, and substituted a 2-minute recapitulation of the first movement material, odd as that may be. But that has remained the final form of the quartet. But the Yings offer us the rare opportunity of hearing the original third movement, and—thanks to the programming capabilities of CD players—of hearing the entire quartet in either its original or revised form. For those who have wondered what that original finale was like, this provides an informative option. But though the movement is certainly competent and might have served its original function adequately, it would have diluted the work’s emotional intensity and dissipated much of the impact of the work as a whole.

Although Howard Hanson is often viewed as a narrow-minded reactionary, he was quite the precocious genius in his youth, earning his Bachelor’s Degree at barely 20, and joining the faculty at the College of the Pacific in San Jose, California, immediately upon graduation. There he was appointed Dean of the Conservatory of Fine Arts at the age of 22. The two works by which he is represented here exhibit even more obviously than does the Barber quartet the romantic tendency to favor episodic sequences dominated by mood and emotion over clear, concise structures. Hanson’s Concerto da Camera for piano and string quartet was composed in 1917, during his first year in San Jose. In one single movement, it is a 15-minute work that reflects a French–flavored hyperchromaticism—lush, passionate, rhapsodic, and dark-hued, with plenty of heart-throbbing appoggiaturas. Hanson’s ethos was always dominated by his strong religious feelings, and this work bears an inscription on the title page, “Unto Thee lift I up mine eyes O Thou that dwellest in the heavens,” a quotation that he requested appear on any program where the piece was performed. Yet I detect no connection between the music and this quotation, nor is there more than a vague suggestion of the mature Hanson style, aside from its characteristic richness of sonority, transparency of texture, and looseness of structure. A key motivic element is the “theme of youth” upon which Hanson built his Fantasy Variations some 35 years later. With its pan-European post-romanticism, it will certainly appeal to those listeners who have been enjoying the recent MSR recording of Vittorio Giannini’s Piano Quintet. There is another recording of the Concerto da Camera on Albany (TROY129), which features pianist Brian Preston with the Meliora Quartet. That is a perfectly adequate performance, but this new rendition by the Yings with pianist Adam Neiman displays more confidence and conviction, lending the work a greater sense of aesthetic weight than it conveys on the earlier recording. It is indeed rare for a work this obscure to inspire such a polished performance (although the aforementioned Giannini Quintet is another such example).

Hanson composed his sole String Quartet in 1923, while enjoying a European sojourn as the first American recipient of the Prix de Rome; this was around the same time the he wrote his Symphony No. 1, “Nordic.” Although the focus on abstract formal matters associated with the string quartet genre may seem diametrically opposed to the Hanson aesthetic, this somewhat strange work reveals most of the composer’s characteristic traits in abundance. The one-movement quartet is really a series of attitudes or emotional states—passages of stern oratory, visceral rhythmic ostinatos, fervent spiritual rapture, and warm affirmation—that follow one another, connected by awkward transitions, without any apparent meaningful logic, although there is some semblance of motivic development. But there is little counterpoint, and what there is is quite rudimentary. But loyal admirers of the composer’s music will find what they are looking for in what is probably the most polished and committed performance the work has ever had.

Along the lines of an encore, the Ying Quartet concludes this unusual program with their own transcription for string quartet of the Alleluia by Randall Thompson. Originally written for chorus, this short piece is probably the composer’s most popular and widely performed composition, evoking much the same sort of heartfelt exultation that one finds in the music of Hanson. It is lovely in this transcription.

This is a remarkable new release that will delight enthusiasts of American neo-romanticism.

HANSON Syms. No. 4 & 5. Dies Natalis. Elegy. Songs from “Drum Taps.” THOMPSON Testament of Freedom. LEOFFLER Memories of my Childhood. HOVHANESS Sym. No. 3. HINDEMITH Sym. in E-flat. HARTMANN Sym. No. 2. STRAVINSKY Sym. In C. HARRIS Sym. No. 7.

HANSON Symphonies: No. 4, “Requiem.” No. 5, “Sinfonia Sacra.” Dies Natalis. Elegy in Memory of Serge Koussevitzky ● Gerard Schwarz, cond; Seattle SO ● NAXOS 8.559703 (69:44)

HANSON Symphony No. 4, “Requiem.” Songs from “Drum Taps.”1 THOMPSON Testament of Freedom. LOEFFLER Memories of my Childhood (Life in a Russian Village) ● Howard Hanson, cond; Eastman-Rochester SO; Eastman School of Music Ch1 ● PRISTINE PASC-292 (72:17)

HANSON Symphony No. 4, “Requiem.” HOVHANESS Symphony No. 3. HINDEMITH Symphony in E-flat. HARTMANN Symphony No. 2, “Adagio.” STRAVINSKY Symphony in C. HARRIS Symphony No. 7 (original version) ● Leopold Stokowski, cond; NBC SO; Symphony of the Air; W. German Radio O, Cologne; St. Louis SO ● GUILD GHCD-2379/80 (2 CDs; 2:30) Live: 1/2/1944 10/14/1956; 2/28/1943; 5/25/1955; 2/21/1943; 1/9/1955

As alert discophiles are probably aware, Naxos has been reissuing Gerard Schwarz’s excellent comprehensive survey of the orchestral (and some choral) music of Howard Hanson, mostly with the Seattle Symphony. These recordings were originally released during the early 1990s by Delos, although Naxos is shuffling around the contents for their reissues. Readers may refer to back-issues (or to my Web site at www.Walter-Simmons.com) for my comments on the original Delos releases.

So here we have a confluence of three different recorded performances of Hanson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Fourth Symphony, each of them going back some time. Stokowski’s is the earliest, dating from 1944, the year after it was composed, and just one month after its premiere by the Boston Symphony, under the composer’s direction; Hanson’s own recording was originally released on Mercury in 1953; and Schwarz’s was initially released in 1990. The Fourth, subtitled “Requiem,” was written in memory of the composer’s father, and was his own favorite among his symphonies. Because Hanson was not really a “natural symphonist,” most of his works in that genre (the main exception being No. 1, “Nordic,” which—though relatively uncomplicated—is quite successful in its symphonic pretentions) are best viewed more as emotional tone poems—especially their more problematic portions. Much of Hanson’s “symphonic” writing amounts to episodic successions of mood-states that move uneasily from one to the next. In the Fourth Symphony, the inner movements—a slow movement followed by a scherzo—are straightforward, easy to accept, and clear enough in their interpretive requirements. But the outer movements have major structural problems—although, I must emphasize, many passages, taken on their own terms, offer plenty of sensuous appeal. Schwarz seems to have realized this and took relatively broad tempos in the opening and closing movements, perhaps in the hope that more “breathing room” might help to establish them more securely as formal entities. Though I rarely indulge in duration comparisons among performances, in this case it is somewhat revealing: Hanson takes 7:17 for his first movement, while Stokowski takes 6:55; Schwarz takes 9:36. For the second movement Hanson takes 4:33, Stokowski 4:38, and Schwarz 5:43. (It is worth noting that Stokowski, whose reputation would have him “milking” a movement like this, instead presses forward without such indulgence, as does Hanson himself.) For the scherzo, Hanson takes 2:38, Stokowski 2:10, and Schwarz 2:38. For the finale, Hanson takes 6:37, Stokowski 6:15 and Schwarz 7:48. So, interestingly enough, Stokowski’s tempos are much closer to Hanson’s own. The latter is, in toto, 21:20; Stokowski’s is 20:13, while Schwarz’s comes in at 25:45. Do Schwarz’s slower tempos result in a more convincing interpretation? No, I don’t think so—the awkwardness of the outer movements is apparent at any tempo. Of course Schwarz comes out way ahead with regard to sonority—the Stokowski broadcast from Studio 8H sounds pretty terrible. But Hanson’s own recording, as remastered by Andrew Rose, offers some of the best 1950s monaural sound I’ve ever heard. For those favorably disposed to the remainder of the Hanson-conducted program, this re-issue is worth considering.

The Naxos disc also includes Hanson’s Fifth Symphony—a single movement of 15 minutes duration. The composer stated that the work, subtitled “Sinfonia Sacra” and composed in 1954, was inspired by the story of Christ’s resurrection. The Fifth makes even less of a pretense at symphonic form or rhetoric than its predecessor, and is even more blatantly a succession of mood states. Because the work does not develop organically, it conveys a sense of accompanimental music with nothing to accompany. The content is characteristic of the composer’s other works from this period, opening with a stern, solemn tone reminiscent of Sibelius, moving on to a passage of modal polyphony suggestive of spiritual matters, finally erupting agitatedly with characteristic climbing sequences of brilliantly orchestrated ostinatos, before subsiding in a solemn chorale. Again, the music has some passages that are heartfelt and others that are undeniably exciting, but it is just not truly “symphonic.”

Just a couple of years later, in 1956, Hanson composed his Elegy in Memory of Serge Koussevitzky, a conductor who had championed his music as he had that of so many other American composers of the period. It is a 13-minute work with much the same tone and language as the Fifth Symphony. I have always considered it one of the composer’s least consequential pieces, rather slow to take flight and ultimately delivering little of notable substance.

Dies Natalis was composed in 1967, and was one of Hanson’s more successful late works. It consists of an introduction, a Lutheran chorale, seven variations, and a finale. After an overly protracted timpani solo, the introductory melody appears, a characteristically throbbing idea that harks back to some of the composer’s most endearing moments. The chorale appears in much of Hanson’s music, most notably the opening motif of the opera Merry Mount, though it appears there in the Dorian mode and here in the Ionian. The variations are engaging and brief, while the finale returns to the spirit and material of the introduction.

Gerard Schwarz leads sympathetic, committed, and richly refined performances of all these works. Listeners who passed them by when they were first issued, or perhaps were not interested in Hanson at the time, or maybe are still awaiting the opportunity to get acquainted with his work are encouraged to sample one of these budget-priced Naxos releases.

(Before concluding the Naxos portion of this review, I should mention one other Hanson release of significance that was not conducted by Schwarz, but by the late Kenneth Schermerhorn, leading the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. With its fine performance of the “Nordic” Symphony, the orchestral suite from the opera Merry Mount, and the little-known but worthy tone-poem Pan and the Priest, it is my first choice as a budget-priced introduction to the music of Hanson.)

Before moving on from Hanson, some comments on the Songs from “Drum Taps” are in order. This setting of three Whitman poems for baritone solo, chorus, and orchestra, was composed in 1935, just a couple of years after Merry Mount, and whiffs of that work may be heard here. It is a stirring, but not terribly profound setting of the poems—especially the first and third—in which the musical interpretation is limited largely to capturing the martial spirit with snare-drum ostinatos and the like. The choral writing is mostly unison, with some two-voice counterpoint. The second movement, “By the bivouac’s fitful flame,” is a baritone solo, and is quite beautiful. Strains of the love music from Merry Mount appear in this movement and the final one, but the reason for their citation is not apparent to me. Composed between Hanson’s Second and Third Symphonies, this is not one of his greatest works, but one that the composer’s admirers may well feel is worthy of attention nevertheless. The performance here is clearly student-level, but adequate.

Somewhat comparable aesthetically to Hanson’s “Drum Taps” settings is Randall Thompson’s Testament of Freedom, composed in 1943. The music is typical of Thompson’s perennially popular choral style—hearty, diatonic, direct and accessible, with a stirring quality capable of reaching a large number of people. It is clearly a patriotic work whose text, taken from the words of Thomas Jefferson, was applied to the nation’s efforts to overcome the despotism besieging Europe at the time. From today’s perspective, the musical setting of Jefferson’s words seems rather naïve and many listeners may find it hard to accept at face value; but those who can make the necessary allowances may find the work to be stirring and inspirational. The performance does it justice, for the most part.

Charles Martin Loeffler (1861-1935) was a cosmopolitan composer and violinist who spent the early years of his life on the move, including several years in Ukraine. Although he was born in Germany, he came to despise the country, and preferred to describe his nationality as “Alsatian.” A meticulous composer whose work shows great sensitivity, Loeffler’s sensibility was decidedly French. He moved to the United States in 1881, and was for many years a member of the violin section of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. His orchestral piece, A Pagan Poem, is one of the greatest American works from the turn of the 20th century, and was championed (and recorded) by Stokowski. Though perhaps not as striking as that work, the 12-minute Memories of Childhood is an exquisitely wrought piece that treats recognizably Russian folk and religious themes within a highly romanticized vein of Impressionism. The Eastman performance under Hanson’s direction is excellent.

As noted earlier, Andrew Rose’s remastering eliminates many of the shortcomings that would ordinarily detract from the experience of listening to these 60-year-old recordings. Although no program notes of any kind are included with the package, they and all the sung texts are readily accessible on Pristine’s Web site.

Finally returning to the remainder of Stokowski’s 2-CD set: One of the interesting items is the world premiere performance of Alan Hovhaness’s Symphony No. 3. Stokowski conducted a great deal of Hovhaness during his long conducting career, including the premiere of the perennially popular Mysterious Mountain (subsequently labeled Symphony No. 2). He was sympathetic and intuitively attuned to the composer’s unique aesthetic, although he did recoil from the “sliding tones” that Hovhaness adopted from Korean music during the late 1960s. The Third Symphony was composed the year after Mysterious Mountain, with which it shares a fair amount in common, although the later work has more overt Armenian influence. Hovhaness intended it to be a homage to the Classical style, as epitomized by Mozart and Haydn, so he attempted to create a fusion of that style with his own characteristic approach. Hence the work may be regarded as Hovhaness’s take on neo-classicism. The result follows the blueprint of sonata allegro form, but lacks the sense of dialectical opposition from which the form derives its energy. Thematic development is rudimentary, and largely limited to melodic sequences; in that regard it is simpler than a corresponding movement by Haydn. I should mention that a more modern recording of this work was released by Soundset in 1996, featuring a performance by the orchestra of the Korean Broadcasting System, led by the late Georgian conductor Vakhtang Jordania. This recording represents a significant improvement over the Stokowski with regard to sound quality and orchestral sonority. However, as all who are familiar with Hovhaness’s performances of his own works know, he almost always favored vigorous and rather volatile readings of his works. The spiritual serenity for which he and his music became known has been exaggerated in the minds of both performers and listeners. Although much of his music did aim for an almost mystical sense of rapture, his own performances as well as his commentaries about his music make very clear that many of his works benefit from a brusque sort of approach, and even at times embraced a sort of cosmic rage. Stokowski seemed to understand this, and provided a hearty, vigorous reading. Unfortunately, Jordania’s approach is phlegmatic and dull by comparison, draining whatever energy is inherent in the work.

One observation that arises from these and other recently-released recordings of vintage Stokowski live performances is just how simplistic and distorted is the general impression of the conductor as an ultra-romantic who strove for opulent, luxuriant sonorities, which he applied to everything he conducted. A recent reissue in this series included Copland’s “Short Symphony,” which—like the Stravinsky and Hindemith works included here—benefit from rhythmic precision and clarity of texture, which Stokowski provided in full measure, while avoiding euphonious sonorities. These performances have nothing of the “Stokowski sound,” but present the works in question in the most favorable light.

While likely unintentional, this set offers a most interesting point for comparison. The international figure-heads of neo-classicism, a musical style that achieved considerable prominence during the middle third of the 20th century, were Igor Stravinsky and Paul Hindemith, although from today’s perspective the influence of the former has proven to be more enduring than that of the latter. But from the 1920s through the 1940s their importance was somewhat comparable, although the evolution of their compositional styles followed very different paths, largely attributable to their differences in temperament and personality. So here we have two major symphonies, each of which embodies its composer’s notion of neo-classicism, arriving at strikingly different results: Stravinsky’s Symphony in C, composed in 1940 and performed here by Stokowski in 1943; and Hindemith’s Symphony in E-flat, also composed in 1940 (the year of the composer’s immigration to the United States and his appointment to the faculty of Yale University) and performed here by Stokowski in 1943.

Stravinsky’s Symphony in C exemplifies the approach that has become most representative of neo-classicism, as it is understood today. For me the persona that emerges from much—though not all—of Stravinsky’s neo-classical works is that of one who is unable to engage with serious feelings and prefers a stance of detached mockery. The Symphony in C is one of those works in which this quality is most apparent, and I don’t find it at all attractive. Although, as with nearly all the performances on this set, the orchestral playing is quite rough and scrappy, Stokowski approaches the work with a brusque, restless impatience that really makes the best case for it. This is especially apparent when comparing this performance with a more polished, recent recording, such as Colin Davis’s with the London Symphony Orchestra. Davis aims for a kind of gracefulness, delicacy, and charm that highlights the work’s precious superficiality, which I find revolting.

If Stravinsky’s neo-classicism emphasized emotional restraint and detached expression, clear, transparent textures, and an avoidance of bombast, Hindemith’s neo-classicism was largely concerned with an avoidance of sentimentality and a return to more abstract forms and compositional procedures, as opposed to such predecessors as Strauss and Mahler. But if Stravinsky’s approach was almost feminine in the lightness and clarity of its textures, Hindemith’s was unmistakably masculine in its lumbering accumulation of aggressive energy. The Symphony in E-flat is one of his strongest major works, and is quintessential in representing its composer’s voice at its most distinctive. Stokowski’s performance sounds a little hesitant in his approach to a work that—like the Stravinsky—was still relatively new. Two later recorded performances—one conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, the other by Leonard Bernstein—dive in heartily, producing that characteristically Hindemithian quality of a truck careening down a steep incline, barely under control.    Unfortunately, Stokowski’s hesitancy causes his rendition to sound somewhat dry and ponderous, even sagging at times. But finally he pulls things together to produce a vigorous, triumphant finale. For some reason this particular performance enjoys better sound quality than most of the other recordings included here.

Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905-1963), though probably the least well-known composer represented on this set, was an important figure in German music from the end of World War II until the ascendency of Stockhausen and the Darmstadt group—an admittedly short period. He was exceedingly self-critical, discarding many of his works, and revising others repeatedly. Hartman’s Second Symphony, subtitled, “Adagio,” was completed as a one-movement work of 15 minutes duration in 1946, although it was based on an earlier work, subsequently discarded. Ultimately Hartmann completed eight symphonies, and his aesthetic and musical language may be said to place him as a link in the chain following Hindemith, although he actually studied with Webern. The Second Symphony is grim, gray, and very serious, severe and intense, highly dissonant but not atonal. One of the work’s most important themes is introduced in an extended saxophone solo. Although it offers little “entertainment value,” it is a very impressive work—possibly the most impressive of the entire set.

Finally we come to the Symphony No. 7 of Roy Harris—in its original version. The work was completed in 1952, and this performance was given in early 1955. Later that year the composer subjected the symphony to substantial revisions, and it achieved some success in this form. The performance offered here represents the last time the work was presented in its original form, and is the only surviving recording of that version. So for those reasons this rendition holds some historical importance. With its single-movement structure and slowly evolving form, the Seventh shares much in common with the far better-known Third Symphony. It is also typical in its evocation of rural America, and includes some quasi-cowboy music. Stokowski imbues the work with a sense of vitality and direction often missing from performances of Harris’s music, despite the fact that the St. Louis Symphony was not an ensemble of the first rank at the time, and some of the high violin writing taxes the players beyond their capacity. This is not the place to go into a detailed comparison of the two versions of the work; I have no idea what motives underlay Harris’s decision to revise it, as it was reportedly successful in its initial performances. I will simply note that a strong case could be made for the symphony in this original version. Listeners with a serious interest in the music of Roy Harris will definitely want to acquaint themselves with this rendition, and reach their own conclusions.

As noted earlier, Andrew Rose’s remastering eliminates many of the shortcomings that would ordinarily detract from the experience of listening to these 60-year-old recordings. Although no program notes of any kind are included with the package, they and all the sung texts are readily accessible on Pristine’s Web site.

Finally returning to the remainder of Stokowski’s 2-CD set: One of the interesting items is the world premiere performance of Alan Hovhaness’s Symphony No. 3. Stokowski conducted a great deal of Hovhaness during his long conducting career, including the premiere of the perennially popular Mysterious Mountain (subsequently labeled Symphony No. 2). He was sympathetic and intuitively attuned to the composer’s unique aesthetic, although he did recoil from the “sliding tones” that Hovhaness adopted from Korean music during the late 1960s. The Third Symphony was composed the year after Mysterious Mountain, with which it shares a fair amount in common, although the later work has more overt Armenian influence. Hovhaness intended it to be a homage to the Classical style, as epitomized by Mozart and Haydn, so he attempted to create a fusion of that style with his own characteristic approach. Hence the work may be regarded as Hovhaness’s take on neo-classicism. The result follows the blueprint of sonata allegro form, but lacks the sense of dialectical opposition from which the form derives its energy. Thematic development is rudimentary, and largely limited to melodic sequences; in that regard it is simpler than a corresponding movement by Haydn. I should mention that a more modern recording of this work was released by Soundset in 1996, featuring a performance by the orchestra of the Korean Broadcasting System, led by the late Georgian conductor Vakhtang Jordania. This recording represents a significant improvement over the Stokowski with regard to sound quality and orchestral sonority. However, as all who are familiar with Hovhaness’s performances of his own works know, he almost always favored vigorous and rather volatile readings of his works. The spiritual serenity for which he and his music became known has been exaggerated in the minds of both performers and listeners. Although much of his music did aim for an almost mystical sense of rapture, his own performances as well as his commentaries about his music make very clear that many of his works benefit from a brusque sort of approach, and even at times embraced a sort of cosmic rage. Stokowski seemed to understand this, and provided a hearty, vigorous reading. Unfortunately, Jordania’s approach is phlegmatic and dull by comparison, draining whatever energy is inherent in the work.

One observation that arises from these and other recently-released recordings of vintage Stokowski live performances is just how simplistic and distorted is the general impression of the conductor as an ultra-romantic who strove for opulent, luxuriant sonorities, which he applied to everything he conducted. A recent reissue in this series included Copland’s “Short Symphony,” which—like the Stravinsky and Hindemith works included here—benefit from rhythmic precision and clarity of texture, which Stokowski provided in full measure, while avoiding euphonious sonorities. These performances have nothing of the “Stokowski sound,” but present the works in question in the most favorable light.

While likely unintentional, this set offers a most interesting point for comparison. The international figure-heads of neo-classicism, a musical style that achieved considerable prominence during the middle third of the 20th century, were Igor Stravinsky and Paul Hindemith, although from today’s perspective the influence of the former has proven to be more enduring than that of the latter. But from the 1920s through the 1940s their importance was somewhat comparable, although the evolution of their compositional styles followed very different paths, largely attributable to their differences in temperament and personality. So here we have two major symphonies, each of which embodies its composer’s notion of neo-classicism, arriving at strikingly different results: Stravinsky’s Symphony in C, composed in 1940 and performed here by Stokowski in 1943; and Hindemith’s Symphony in E-flat, also composed in 1940 (the year of the composer’s immigration to the United States and his appointment to the faculty of Yale University) and performed here by Stokowski in 1943.

Stravinsky’s Symphony in C exemplifies the approach that has become most representative of neo-classicism, as it is understood today. For me the persona that emerges from much—though not all—of Stravinsky’s neo-classical works is that of one who is unable to engage with serious feelings and prefers a stance of detached mockery. The Symphony in C is one of those works in which this quality is most apparent, and I don’t find it at all attractive. Although, as with nearly all the performances on this set, the orchestral playing is quite rough and scrappy, Stokowski approaches the work with a brusque, restless impatience that really makes the best case for it. This is especially apparent when comparing this performance with a more polished, recent recording, such as Colin Davis’s with the London Symphony Orchestra. Davis aims for a kind of gracefulness, delicacy, and charm that highlights the work’s precious superficiality, which I find revolting.

If Stravinsky’s neo-classicism emphasized emotional restraint and detached expression, clear, transparent textures, and an avoidance of bombast, Hindemith’s neo-classicism was largely concerned with an avoidance of sentimentality and a return to more abstract forms and compositional procedures, as opposed to such predecessors as Strauss and Mahler. But if Stravinsky’s approach was almost feminine in the lightness and clarity of its textures, Hindemith’s was unmistakably masculine in its lumbering accumulation of aggressive energy. The Symphony in E-flat is one of his strongest major works, and is quintessential in representing its composer’s voice at its most distinctive. Stokowski’s performance sounds a little hesitant in his approach to a work that—like the Stravinsky—was still relatively new. Two later recorded performances—one conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, the other by Leonard Bernstein—dive in heartily, producing that characteristically Hindemithian quality of a truck careening down a steep incline, barely under control.    Unfortunately, Stokowski’s hesitancy causes his rendition to sound somewhat dry and ponderous, even sagging at times. But finally he pulls things together to produce a vigorous, triumphant finale. For some reason this particular performance enjoys better sound quality than most of the other recordings included here.

Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905-1963), though probably the least well-known composer represented on this set, was an important figure in German music from the end of World War II until the ascendency of Stockhausen and the Darmstadt group—an admittedly short period. He was exceedingly self-critical, discarding many of his works, and revising others repeatedly. Hartman’s Second Symphony, subtitled, “Adagio,” was completed as a one-movement work of 15 minutes duration in 1946, although it was based on an earlier work, subsequently discarded. Ultimately Hartmann completed eight symphonies, and his aesthetic and musical language may be said to place him as a link in the chain following Hindemith, although he actually studied with Webern. The Second Symphony is grim, gray, and very serious, severe and intense, highly dissonant but not atonal. One of the work’s most important themes is introduced in an extended saxophone solo. Although it offers little “entertainment value,” it is a very impressive work—possibly the most impressive of the entire set.

Finally we come to the Symphony No. 7 of Roy Harris—in its original version. The work was completed in 1952, and this performance was given in early 1955. Later that year the composer subjected the symphony to substantial revisions, and it achieved some success in this form. The performance offered here represents the last time the work was presented in its original form, and is the only surviving recording of that version. So for those reasons this rendition holds some historical importance. With its single-movement structure and slowly evolving form, the Seventh shares much in common with the far better-known Third Symphony. It is also typical in its evocation of rural America, and includes some quasi-cowboy music. Stokowski imbues the work with a sense of vitality and direction often missing from performances of Harris’s music, despite the fact that the St. Louis Symphony was not an ensemble of the first rank at the time, and some of the high violin writing taxes the players beyond their capacity. This is not the place to go into a detailed comparison of the two versions of the work; I have no idea what motives underlay Harris’s decision to revise it, as it was reportedly successful in its initial performances. I will simply note that a strong case could be made for the symphony in this original version. Listeners with a serious interest in the music of Roy Harris will definitely want to acquaint themselves with this rendition, and reach their own conclusions.

TWENTIETH-CENTURY HARPSICHORD MUSIC, VOLS. I, II, and III. Music by Persichetti, Adler, Albright, Martinu, Templeton, Sowash, Thomson, Rosner, Borroff, Locklair, Harbach, Near, V. Fine, Thompson, Pinkham, S. Jones. Barbara Harbach, harpsichord

TWENTIETH-CENTURY HARPSICHORD MUSIC, Volume IPERSICHETTI: Harpsichord Sonata No. 7. ADLER: Harpsichord Sonata. ALBRIGHT: Four Fancies. MARTINU: Sonate. Deux Pieces. Deux Impromptus. TEMPLETON: Bach Goes to Town. SOWASH: The Unicorn. Theme with Six Variations. THOMSON: Four Portraits. Barbara Harbach, harpsichord. KING­DOM KCLCD-2005; 71:20. Produced by John Proffitt.

TWENTIETH-CENTURY HARPSICHORD MUSIC, Volume II. ROSNER: Musique de clavecin. BORROFF: Metaphors. LOCKLAIR: The Breakers Pound. HARBACH: Spain­dango. G. NEAR: Triptych. V. FINE: Toccatas and Arlas. THOMPSON: Four Inventions. Barbara Harbach,harpsichord. GAS-PARO GSCD-266;70:40. Produced by John Proffitt.

TWENTIETH-CENTURY HARPSICHORD MUSIC, Volume IIIPINKHAM: Partita. S. JONES: Two Movements. LOCKLAIR: Fantasy Brings the Day. ROSNER: Sonatine d’amour. ADLER: Bridges to Span Adversity. Barbara Harbach,harpsichord. GAS-PARO GSCD-280;68:38. Produced by Roy Christensen.

If listening to these three CDs, containing three and a half hours of twentieth-century harpsichord music, doesn’t prove the instrument’s viability as a modern musical medium, nothing will. Barbara Harbach, a faculty member at the State University of New York at Buffalo, tours and records extensively as both harpsichordist and organist. Her enthusiastic, wide-ranging involvement in expanding and promoting the modern harpsichord repertoire can be gleaned simply by perusing the above list of works, many of which were composed with her in mind. Except for the few criticisms noted during the course of the following review, Harbach plays with precision and a refreshing verve, while exhibiting a healthy, exuberant musicality. Sixteen composers are represented—all of them American but Martinu. The pieces she has chosen embrace a wide and varied stylistic range, from those that trade, either seriously or parodistically, on the harpsichord’s association with the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to more mainstream neoclassical efforts, from some surprisingly effective examples of romantic lyricism, to a few offerings that are wildly sui generis. In an attempt to accommodate the reader, I will comment on the contents disc by disc, in the order that the pieces are listed above.

Volume I originally appeared (minus the Thomson and Sowash pieces) on LP (Gasparo GS-251) a few years ago, and was reviewed in Fanfare 9:5 (p. 305). The most substantial works on this disc are those by Persichetti, Adler, and Albright. During the. last years of his life, Vincent Persichetti concentrated intensively on the harpsichord, which he described as “a whole universe in itself.” The seventh of his nine sonatas for the instrument was composed in 1983. Its three brief movements are terse, concise, and thoroughly abstract in structure, featuring graceful, thin, linear textures idiomatic to the instrument. While the first two movements arc quite austere in tone, the finale explodes with an exuberant rhythmic vitality.

Samuel Adler is a prolific German-born composer now in his sixties who currently heads the composition department at the Eastman School of Music. Adler’s neoclassical sonata of 1982 is more rhythmically and texturally aggressive than Persichetti’s, with the kinds of forceful, dissonant sonorities one does not expect from the harpsichord. These create a jarring, but invigorating, effect. The slow movement, however, provides some tender moments. This is a brilliant, substantial work that becomes more engrossing with each hearing.

A rather bizarre piece that seems to be developing a following among harpsichordists is a wacky stylistic hodgepodge called Four Fancies, composed in 1979 by Michigan-based William Albright. Most striking are the first movement, a maddeningly abrasive takeoff on a Baroque French Overture, and the finale, a “Danza Ostinata” that the program notes link to near-Eastern music, boogie-woogie, Soler, and Terry Riley. The inner movements are more subdued, but mysterious and imaginative. The piece is often irritating, but intriguingly stylish nonetheless.

The three works by Bohuslav Martinu are rather disappointing. Deux Pieces date from 1935, while the sonata and Deux Impromptus appeared during the composer’s last years, 1958 and 1959 respectively. At best they display some modest, neo-Baroque charm, but, for the most part, are flimsy, routine, and uninteresting.

“Bach Goes to Town: Prelude and Fugue in Swing” is a movement from Alec Templeton’s 1938 Topsy-Turvy Suite, originally composed for piano. By now, the notion of jazzing up the Baroque idiom is not new, and this example sounds banal and dated, though it certainly loses nothing on the harpsichord. However, Harbach plays the piece so squarely and stiffly that what little charm it has is stilled.

Rick Sowash is a forty-year-old composer who studied at the University of Indiana. What I know of his music has been sweetly and simply tuneful, with an identifiably American flavor. Both pieces presented here follow that description. The Unicorn, composed in 1976, suggests a senti­mental pastorale—pretty, but extended beyond its durability through mere changes of registration. Theme with Six Variations was written a decade later and is too simplistic to take seriously.

Virgil Thomson’s Four Portraits were originally written for piano. Like most pieces by this vastly over-rated composer, some moments are pretty, others are banal, but all are vacuous.

If a listener wished to sample only one of these CDs, I would recommend Volume II, as the one with the most interesting program. Worthy of special attention is Arnold Rosner’s Musique de Clavecin, one of the most eerily fascinating compositions for harpsichord I have ever heard. As many Fanfare readers already know, Rosner has fashioned quite an original means of expression, using a language rooted in the distant past—in particular, in the idioms of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Not that this is so remarkable in itself—after all, the same can be said for Respighi’s suites of Ancient Dances and Airs, Gordon Jacob’s William Byrd Suite, Warlock’s Capriol Suite, and any number of other examples by Poulenc, Vaughan Williams, et al. But what makes Rosner’s music special is that, in most of his works, its stylistic atavism does not exist merely to provide quaint antiquarian charm, but rather, serves as a basic medium to convey a wide range of emotional states—some quite intense and powerful. This is more clearly illustrated by the 1974 Musique de Clavecin than by any other music of Rosner to appear on disc thus far. The work is in five substantial movements: The first is a grim, stately sarabande; the second, a sardonic, grotesque dance; the third is a macabre nocturne, somewhat reminiscent conceptually of Scriabin’s Vers la Flamme  in its reiteration of a simple but haunting chord progression that grows gradually from a soft and mysterious opening to a climax of nightmarish intensity and back; the fourth movement is a lovely Elizabethan dance of benign character; the work concludes with a somber passacaglia. Lasting twenty-two minutes, Musique de Clavecin contains virtually nothing a contemporary au­dience would describe as “dissonant,” but is full in texture and weighty in content—a challenge for the performer that Harbach meets admirably.

Also worthy of attention is a work from 1987 called Metaphors, by Edith Borroff, a New York-based composer in her mid-sixties, currently on the faculty of SUNY/ Binghamton. Described as a set of variations on a tone row, Metaphors is an expertly shaped, richly expressive piece—abstract in conception, but not at all forbidding.

Dan Locklair is a composer from North Carolina, now in his early forties. The Breakers Pound, composed in 1985, was inspired by a poem of Stephen Sandy called Freeway. This is an entertaining, parodistic sort of piece, with wild stylistic incongruities—from Baroque to boogie-­woogie—somewhat along the lines of Albright’s Four Fancies, but lighter in weight and more approachable.

Barbara Harbach’s own Spaindango is a rather ferocious little tour-de-force, with a faintly Spanish flavor. Despite its brevity, it makes a distinctly indelible impression.

Gerald Near (b. 1942) is a noted church musician based in Minnesota. His Triptych is simple and direct, with a melodic warmth reminiscent of Hanson and Creston.

Veteran composer Vivian Fine’s 1986 Toccatas and Arias is described as “a meditation on Baroque forms.” Though imaginatively constructed, it is rather dry in effect.

Randall Thompson’s Four Inventions originated as classroom exercises in counterpoint. Al­though much of Thompson’s music engenders warm affection, these Anna Magdalena-like trifles are too slight to warrant attention—or inclusion in a serious recital program.

Volume III adds a couple of new names to Harbach’s program, while delving further into the works of some composers previously sampled. Massachusetts-based Daniel Pinkham, now in his late sixties, has long been associated with the harpsichord—both as performer and composer. (His 1955 Concerto for Celeste and Harpsichord is a long-time favorite of mine.) The Partita offered here is an ambitious work in six substantial movements, composed in 1964. Perhaps the fact that the music was originally written as part of a television documentary accounts for its apparent lack of stylistic balance. Much of it is difficult to characterize—serious in tone, light in texture, cool, dry, and rather impersonal in effect. Though several of the movements strike me as excessively academic, others are delightful, especially an ebullient Scherzo and Trio, and a strangely Debussy-like (imagine!) Envoi.

Samuel Jones, now in his mid-fifties, is a professor of composition at Rice University in Texas. His Two Movements from 1988 are abstract, serious, solidly crafted, and conservative, as one might expect of an Eastman graduate from the Hanson years. In common with the Adler sonata and the Borroff Metaphors discussed earlier, Jones’s piece does not make a strong personal impression, yet promises further rewards on subsequent hearings.

Dan Locklair reappears on this disc with another oddly entertaining piece, this one called Fantasy Brings the Day (1989). Like much of the music presented here, it exhibits virtually no Baroque reference, yet exploits the harpsichord’s characteristics most effectively.

Arnold Rosner’s 1987 Sonatine d’Amour is rather less interesting than his Musique de Clave­cin. It is in two movements—the first, an incantatory recitative punctuated by broken chords; the second, a gentle, graceful dance. Part of the problem may lie with the performance: The melismatic melodies of the first movement are played rather metronomically, while the second movement is paced a bit slowly. In any case, the result seems monotonous and overextended.

Samuel Adler composed his Bridges. to Span Adversity in 1989, in memory of Jan deGaetani. Its two movements, though skillful, are awfully dry.

On the whole, this beautifully recorded set of CDs represents an impressive accomplishment, ensuring for Barbara Harbach an important place among today’s generation of harpsichordists—and a preeminent one among those who specialize in music of the twentieth century.

THOMPSON: Frostiana. Testament of Freedom

THOMPSON: Frostiana. Testament of Freedom. Richard Auldon Clark conducting the New York Choral Society and the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra.
KOCH INTERNATIONAL 3-7283-2H1 [DDD]; 49:07. Produced by Michael Fine.

The graphics of this new release give Randall Thompson’s somewhat better-knownTestament of Freedom center stage treatment, but it is Frostiana that offers the chief musical interest and satisfaction. Written to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the city of Amherst, Massachusetts in 1959, Frostiana comprises settings of seven of Robert Frost’s best-known poems. Within a consonant, diatonic musical language whose simple directness is universally accessible, the half-hour cycle successfully paints a poignant and remarkably apt musical analogue to Frost’s vision of rural New England and of the values and sensibilities associated with this milieu. The work concludes with a setting of “Choose Something Like a Star” which, despite its utter simplicity, is deeply and unforgettably moving. (Immediately following the premiere, Frost reportedly rose from his seat and bellowed, “Sing that again!”)

Thompson’s choral music seems to be the most enduring portion of his output; much of it is performed far more widely throughout the country than its representation on recordings might suggest. I believe that this new release marks Frostiana’s first appearance on a commercial recording, although it has been a favorite of choruses ever since it was written. I have felt for a long time that a recording would provide a welcome introduction of the work to a different segment of the listening audience. But, unfortunately, this performance is not
fully satisfactory. During the past few years, the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra’s many recordings, under the leadership of founder and conductor Richard Auldon Clark, have contributed significantly to the discovery and revival of American music of the middle third of this century. But, in general, Clark’s performances tend to emphasize accuracy, intonation, and warm, homogeneously blended textures at the expense of rhythmic and dynamic thrust, and this is also true here: the music is not quite as bland and passive as it sounds on this recording.

Furthermore, the chorus’s phrasing lacks nuance, resulting at times in a mechanical squareness of rhythm. I cannot help but recommend this release as a means of discovering a most rewarding piece, but there is room for interpretive improvement.

Testament of Freedom presents selections from the writings of Thomas Jefferson in primarily homophonic, syllabic settings. While using essentially the same simple, straightforward musical language as Frostiana, it is a much less interesting work. Rather like lower-drawer Elgar, it proceeds with a stately and occasionally stirring sense of patriotic self-satisfaction. Composed in 1943, Testament was apparently intended as a positive, encouraging wartime statement. But, as is usually the case with such efforts, the result is musically unimaginative and emotionally simplistic.

Both these works were originally conceived with piano accompaniment, and, for obvious reasons, this is the way they generally performed. However, the orchestral versions heard here are far preferable for listening purposes.