by Walter Simmons
PERSICHETTI: Te Deum; Parable IX; Four Cummings Choruses; Symphony No. 6 (Excerpts). Tennessee Tech Choral Union and Chamber Orchestra conducted by James Wattenbarger; Tennessee Tech Concert Choir conducted by Robert Chancellor; Tennessee Tech Symphonic Band conducted by Vincent Persichetti and Wayne Pegram. USC SOUND ENTERPRISES KM-1558
Here is yet another release devoted entirely to music by one of America’s most influential and multidimensional creative figures. Today newly thirty of Persichetti’s works are available on records, although soma of these are not listed in Schwann (notably the extraordinary two-record set produced by Arizona State University containing the four string quartets). The disc under discussion is the 11th release in a series sponsored by Tennessee Tech University, each installment of which is devoted to the music of one American composer. Previous issues have focused upon Morton Gould, Vaclav Nelhybel, and others.
Persichetti’s Te Deum of 1963, for chorus and orchestra, is a significant first recording. Somewhat more massive in gesture than one often finds in Persichetti’s music, it is nevertheless clear in texture and basically diatonic in substance, with a ruggedly unsentimental vigor that is distinctly American, yet without any of the clichés of musical Americana. A slight impression of episodic choppiness may be due to tempos that are considerably slower than the score specifies. If I am not mistaken, this is the first choral work of Persichetti to be recorded.
Four Cummings Choruses, with piano accompaniment, were composed one year after the Te Deum, and represent Persichetti’s more genial, impish vein. These sprightly settings of dominic has a doll, maggie and milly and molly and mary, nouns to nouns, and uncles are joyful and easily likable.
Parable IX, Persichetti’s very ambitious recent work for band, makes its second appearance on records in several months. An extremely challenging piece for the performers, it demands attentive listening as well, as its structure is articulated with great concentration. Yet all is propelled by Persichetti’s ever lithe and graceful rhythmic flow, and textures are characteristically transparent, so that this concentration of activity never becomes turgid or congested, as is often the case with music that attempts to pack too much into too short a time span, in the name of economy. A particularly noteworthy feature of this work is the manner in which virtuoso treatment of the instruments, in solo and ensemble, is built into the substance of the music. The performance, under the composer’s own direction, is quite competent, although the rendition by the University of Kansas Symphonic Band (Golden Crest ATH-5055) offers more crispness, clarity, precision, and dynamic contrast—important factors in this music. Of course, Golden Crest’s is a studio performance, which gives it an advantage over Tennessee Tech’s live concert recording.
The inclusion on the recording of the inner movements of Persichetti’s Sixth Symphony is quite superfluous, since the space might better have been devoted to a different piece in its entirety. Of course, the Sixth Symphony is probably Persichetti’s most widely performed work, and understandably so; anyone interested in contemporary American music who is unfamiliar with this inexhaustibly ebullient, warm, and delightful work ought to waste no time in acquiring it on Mercury 75094.
The potential purchaser of this record should be warned that the production is not fully up to professional standards. The performances, while adequate to introduce the music, are definitely of amateur/student caliber. There is a high level of tape hiss, applause is included after each selection, and, most irritating of all, the Cummings Choruses are not presented in their proper order. But they and the Te Deum are good music, and this is the only way to acquire them, so Persichetti fans will probably want the record simply for those pieces.