Symphony on a Hymn Tune (1928)
Symphony #2 in C Major (1931-1941)
Symphony #3 (1972)
Pilgrims and Pioneers (1964) (from film score "Journey to America")
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/James Sedares
Naxos 8.559022 64:21
Virgil Thomson, highly respected (often controversial) music critic, teacher and composer, was educated at Harvard and studied in France with Nadia Boulanger, one of the most influential teachers of some of the finest composers from several generations.
Paris in the 1920's was incredibly fertile ground for all of the arts, especially music. It was host to many ex-patriots from Stravinsky to Hemingway. It was in Paris where Thomson met Gertrude Stein with whom he would collaborate on two operas, "Four Saints In Three Acts", and "The Mother Of Us All". Thomson wrote music in all genres, from chamber music to film scores, from choral works to ballet.
The works in this fine Naxos "American Classics" disc are an excellent introduction to the symphonic music of Virgil Thomson. Hymn tunes, folk tunes, fanfares, popular melodies all appear in his early orchestral works. In the Symphony on a Hymn Tune, last movement, the bear even went over the mountain! The harmonies are wide open with intervals of fourths and fifths, and the orchestrations are exciting and colorful. Thomson's melodies are sweet and his treatments are witty. Not to be missed: the charming waltz from the much darker and more introspective Third Symphony. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra does a very fine job with these American pieces.