American Pioneers: Music for String Orchestra
Dick van Gasteren is the founder-conductor of the Ciconia Consort, a chamber orchestra based in The Hague since 2012. To mark 400 years since the Pilgrim Fathers left the Netherlands for America, he devised this programme of music from the first half of the 20th century, reflecting the particular character of ‘New World’ music as well as its roots in European romanticism. The result is a collection unique on album, in beautifully sprung new recordings full of vitality and sympathy. Arthur Foote (1853-1937) numbered among the first generation of classical composers to be educated primarily in the US, and in the arching phrases, transparent textures and rich harmonies of his E major can be heard the Romantic heritage of Brahms and Wagner which exercised a dominant influence over American conservatoires in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before pioneers such as Ives and Antheil loosed the cultural bonds between the two continents. The Hymn is the second of ‘A Set of Three Short Pieces for String Orchestra’ written by Ives in 1904: way ahead of its time, we might now think (and composed three years before Foote’s Suite), in its probing harmony which ventures deep into and even beyond the expressionist world of Arnold Schoenberg, while retaining a solemn, devotional quality in the slow-moving textures and the passionate viola melody at its heart. In contrast to the darkness and uncertainty of Ives’s Hymn, the Shaker music quoted by Aaron Copland in Appalachian Spring radiates quiet content and security. The Ciconia Consort are joined here by Dutch colleagues to present the final version of Copland’s ballet, originally written in 1944 to a commission by Martha Graham for a piece with a distinctively American theme.
Least known of the composers represented on this attractive anthology is probably Arthur Foote, yet he was a significant figure in the development of American classical music. His Suite is an attractive work, in three movements, the last a fugue.
Antheil can be a forbidding composer, but in later years his work softened, as in this delightful, romantic three-movement Serenade. One senses a mellowness and a gift for melody, and, as a whole, it is thoroughly worth exploring: a little charmer.
For me, any Ives is a treat, and the three-minute Hymn is a lovely little piece in his earlier, less experimental style, warm and appealing. Beginning in the double bass, slightly grimly, it opens into broader and generous writing with a sustained nobility.
The best-known work is the Suite from Appalachian Spring, in the original form for 13 instruments. One of the advantages of this reduction, compared with the lusher suite for full orchestra, is that it brings out the angularity of much of the writing. Fine as the new recording is, Copland does give us the complete ballet, which is only 8 minutes longer than the suite, and could have been fitted on this CD.
The Ciconia Consort, resident at the Hague, are a fine ensemble, and this collection will not disappoint.
– MusicWeb International
Catalog Number: BRI96086
Label: Brilliant Classics
Composer: Aaron Copland, Arthur Foote, Charles Ives, George Antheil