American Classics - MacDowell: Suites, Hamlet & Ophelia

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I'll say one thing: Naxos gives great notes. Reacting against Dvorák's suggestion that American composers look to Negro Spirituals and other ethnic music for inspiration, Edward MacDowell retorted:

"Purely national music has no place in art. What Negro melodies have to do with Americanism still remains a mystery to me. Why cover a beautiful thought with the badge of slavery rather than with the stern but at least manly and free rudeness of the North American Indian...? What we must arrive at is the youthful optimistic vitality and the undaunted tenacity of spirit that characterizes the American Man."

So speaks the true voice of the oppressor. Really, a nicer guy never got run over by a horse-drawn cab. Still, this little extract teaches us two useful lessons. First, what a composer says about music in general doesn't necessarily have anything to do with what he actually writes. After all, "youthful optimistic vitality" and "undaunted tenacity of spirit" are about the last qualities that come to mind when listening to the pieces on this disc--more like faux Mendelssohn with a Liszt spritzer. Second, the fact that a composer may not be particularly agreeable, or even especially intelligent, doesn't detract from the purely musical value of his output (if any, of course).

MacDowell's two suites for orchestra have waited a long time to appear on CD, and the fact that they may not be all that audacious or exciting does not detract from their considerable charm, attractive fund of melody, and apt scoring. Takuo Yuasa and the Ulster Orchestra lavish genuine care on these pieces, playing with real dedication and more than enough sympathy to justify the composer's pride in the Indian Suite's "Dirge" as one of his finest achievements. The Second Suite is, in fact, a very substantial work that does not deserve its obscurity. And yet we have to wonder just what a composer whose music was approvingly described in his own lifetime as "agreeably free of the fevers of sex" could make of Hamlet & Ophelia; and whatever the music's qualities, let us just say that it fully lives up (if that's the word) to MacDowell's chaste reputation. As noted, Naxos' documentation is exceptional, and the sound fine.
--David Hurwitz,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8559075

  • UPC: 636943907528

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Edward MacDowell

  • Conductor: Takuo Yuasa

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Ulster Orchestra