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   Symphonies: October 2008 Archives

An Acquired Taste

Hyperion CDA66280

Robert Simpson

Symphony #6 (1977)
Symphony #7 (1977)

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
Hyperion CDA66280 59:00

It has to be said that Simpson's symphonies are something of an acquired taste, so it's a case of try before you buy. It's difficult to provide any signposts, other than perhaps the slightest traces of such composers as Sibelius, Nielsen and Hindemith. The two symphonies presented here, each running about half an hour, are continuous with recognisable sections. Each develops considerable tension which Simpson resolves in different ways. I was immediately hooked when I heard this music but have not always persuaded others. This CD was the first of the series of recordings of Simpson's eleven symphonies, all of which remain available.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus - ]

A Pagan Symphony

Hyperion CDA66630

Granville Bantock

Pagan Symphony (1923-8)
Fifine at the Fair (1911)
Two Heroic Ballads (1944)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
Hyperion CDA66630 79:38

The late Vernon Handley, dedicated champion of British music, made a number of CDs of Bantock's output for Hyperion. The music presented here is extrovert with memorable tunes and frequently thrilling orchestration. Add to that wonderful playing, superb recording and an unusually well-filled CD. I also recommend the Celtic Symphony, the Hebridean Symphony, The Cyprian Goddess, and Thalaba the Destroyer.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus - ]

Bloch's Symphony

BIS 576

Ernest Bloch

Symphony in C Sharp minor (1901-2)
Schelomo (1917) 1

1 Torleif Thedéen, cello
Malmö Symphony Orchestra/Lev Markiz
BIS BIS-CD-576 78:25

The early Symphony in C Sharp minor, running nearly 54 minutes, is a remarkable accomplishment. Bloch's influences, as heard here, include Richard Strauss and Mahler. Although he may go a little over the top occasionally, the symphony is full of memorable ideas. Schelomo is probably his best-known work and receives a fine performance. As you'd expect from this source, the recording is excellent.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic ]

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus - ]

Zemlinsky's Early Symphonies

EMI 341446

Alexander von Zemlinsky

Symphony #1 in D Minor (1892)
Symphony #2 in B Flat Major (1897)

Gürzenich Orchestra/James Conlon
Köln Philharmonic Orchestra/James Conlon
EMI Encore 341446-2 75:36

These two early symphonies by a composer in his twenties show a wide range of influences including Brahms, Dvořák, and Bruckner. They are clearly products of their time, the second appearing in the year of Brahms' death. Zemlinsky's style was to undergo significant change and so the listener familiar with such works as the Lyric Symphony or A Florentine Tragedy will not find many points of similarity. The American conductor James Conlon has recorded much of Zemlinsky's music and makes a persuasive case for this music. These performances are also available in a 3-CD set of Zemlinsky's orchestral works.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus - ]

Danish Desserts

Chandos CHAN9609

Johannes Frederik Frøhlich

Symphony in E Flat, Op. 33 (1830)

Niels Gade

Symphony #4, Op. 20 (1849-50)

Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Hogwood
Chandos CHAN9609 55:38

The Danish Frøhlich, not to be confused with an Austrian and a Swiss with a similar name, wrote but one symphony, thought to be the first Romantic symphony by a Dane. It's a very cheerful work, reminiscent in orchestration and mood to similar works by Berwald. The Gade work is similarly lacking in gloom and, like most of Gade's eight symphonies, owes more than a little to Mendelssohn.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan ]


Deutshe Grammophon 429860

Carl Ruggles

Sun-treader (1926-31)

William Schuman

Violin Concerto (1959) 1

Walter Piston

Symphony #2 (1943)

1 Paul Zukofsky, violin
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Michael Tilson Thomas
Deutshe Grammophon 429860-2 74:43

Ruggles' music is not easy to love but even if you find it not to your taste, the rest of the CD will more than make up for it. The Schuman Violin Concerto is variously anguished, calm, strident, lyrical, violent, and similar in many ways to the first Shostakovich Violin Concerto. There are other recordings if you can't find this one. Less often recorded is the Piston symphony, in three movements, at whose heart is an adagio which is unmistakably American. For my money, it's Piston's best symphony. The performances are exemplary.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan ]

20th-Century Czechs

Supraphon SU3700-2

Jarmil Burghauser

Seven Reliefs for Large Orchestra (1962)

Václav Dobiáš

Symphony #2 (1956-57)

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Karel Ancerl
Supraphon SU3700-2 67:48

The Burghauser work is a series of short movements which include nothing dissonant enough to upset your maiden aunt. The main event is the 50+ minute symphony by Dobiáš: it might remind you of Khachaturian, Shostakovich, or even Janácek. This is another from Supraphon's extensive back catalog of Ancerl recordings which make one wish for more recordings of music by some of the unfamiliar names among them.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]