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The Classical Explorer

   Symphonies: November 2008 Archives

American Original

Naxos 8.559022

Virgil Thomson

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.

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A Minor Swedish Symphonist

Marco Polo 8.225105

Adolf Fredrik Lindblad

Symphony #1 in C, Op. 19 (1831)
Symphony #2 in D (1855)

Uppsala Chamber Orchestra/Gérard Korsten
Marco Polo 8.225105 70:29

Like a number of Scandinavian composers of the nineteenth century, Lindblad studied in Germany where he became friendly with Mendelssohn. Lindblad's later work is mainly chamber music, partly as a result of his change of direction following what he saw as unwarranted criticism. These two symphonies have traces of Berwald and although less adventurous than that composer's work, they are highly attractive works full of good tunes, fine orchestration and general good humor: a pity they are the only symphonies he left us.

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Mendelssohnian from Denmark

BIS CD-356

Niels Wilhelm Gade

Symphony #5 in D minor, Op. 25 (25:46)
Symphony #6 in G minor, Op. 32 (24:02)

Roland Pöntinen, piano
Stockholm Sinfonietta/Neeme Järvi
BIS CD-356

Can this be a lost Schumann piano concerto? Is it really a concerto? No, it is a fine Romantic symphony with a very prominent piano part. Gade, one of the most important Danish composers of the 19th century, was greatly influenced by Mendelssohn and, of course, Schumann. In this collection of Gade's symphonies, Symphony #5 stands out not only for its unusual inclusion of the piano, but also as a very fine example of Schumann-era composition.

Gade, wrote in almost all genres, and fortunately BIS and more recently Chandos have recorded all of his eight symphonies. Gade's string quartets are also recommended, as are his overtures.

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