George Antheil (1900-59) came and went early on in his career. But then he launched a comeback of sorts, after which he did garner some attention but without ever rising to the heights of fellow Americans Copland and Barber, or even to the level of Diamond and Mennin. His 1926 Ballet mécanique was his calling card to fame and notoriety for a very brief period. But just as quickly as it gave him a meteoric rise in France, it sent him crash-landing to earth, with the abject failure of its 1927 American première. This 1942 war-inspired Fourth Symphony, however, infused life into his career once more. Written while he served as a war correspondent, it is drenched with the violent and tragic experiences of the conflict in Europe, but it also features triumph in the end, triumph and hope. You cannot help but hear the influence of Shostakovich in this work, and in all the music here, for that matter. Yet, for whatever derivative elements one hears in the Fourth Symphony, it is a major achievement.
The Sixth is a little less beholden to Shostakovich, and maybe marginally less effective than its sibling here. The second movement is certainly haunting, with a few passages sounding remarkably like Prokofieff in the latter half. In fact the finale also shows that influence. The first movement is tense and powerful, with a main theme that threatens to explode every minute. In the end, this is quite a worthwhile composition, probably on the level of many of the symphonies of Diamond and Mennin. I'll opine that the Fourth ranks with the stronger efforts of that esteemed pair.
McKonkey's Ferry, subtitled, Washington at Trenton, is a colorful and most engaging overture, again showing the influence of Shostakovich. It's a delightful bonus. One of the most notable characteristics of Antheil is his utter mastery of orchestration, and this recording serves to showcase that strength well. I doubt there was anyone, including Richard Strauss and Ravel, who were superior to him in this regard. Kuchar and his Ukrainian players turn in splendid work here, as if this were repertory they've known for years. Naxos provides vivid sound. This is a most worthwhile disc, among the finest in Naxos' American Classics series. Urgently recommended!
Copyright © 2000, Robert Cummings