American Symphonies / Friedel, London Symphony Orchestra

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When American composers began writing symphonies around the mid-1800s, their works were very much in the European tradition. During the first half of the 20th century, the great innovator Charles Ives injected a recognizably American sound into the genre, however, and since then the American symphonic legacy has been both wide and varied. With the present release, conductor Lance Friedel strikes a blow for three fellow American composers, with the help of the eminent London Symphony Orchestra. The album opens with Walter Piston’s Symphony No. 6. It was completed in 1955, by which time many regarded Piston (1894–1976) as clinging to tradition in the face of modernism. When Samuel Jones (b.1935) presented his Third Symphony ‘Palo Duro Canyon’ in 1992, the pendulum was swinging back, however, and traditional music built of melody, harmony and rhythm was no longer considered hopelessly outdated. The work nevertheless begins in a rather non-traditional fashion with the recorded sound of the wind of the Texas plains, where the Palo Duro Canyon is situated. Jones’s slightly younger colleague Stephen Albert (1941–92) was just completing his Second Symphony when he was killed in a car accident. The work had been commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, and the orchestration of it was completed by Albert’s colleague and friend Sebastian Currier.


Maine-born Walter Piston’s Symphony No. 6 was written for Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony, who premièred it in 1955. The somewhat mournful start to the first movement, marked Fluendo espressivo, soon gives way to a lighter tread. One senses a degree of formal rigour in the writing, but it’s all clad in colorful raiment. The LSO play with their usual skill, the jaunty, ear-catching scherzo so nimbly done. The deeply reflective adagio is well shaped and projected, the quietest moments—and that gorgeous harp—unerringly caught. It’s capped by a fresh, freewheeling finale, witty and warm. One to add to my roster of recent ‘finds’.

Mississippian Samuel Jones seems to have a three-pronged career, as a composer, conductor and pedagogue. His small discography includes a Schwarz/Seattle recording of the Third Symphony and Tuba Concerto, which Bob Briggs and Rob Barnett both reviewed in 2009. As the title implies, the symphony is inspired by Palo Duro Canyon, near Amarillo, Texas. In six continuous movements—helpfully cued in this release—it begins with highly atmospheric wind sounds that morph into music of uncommon thrust and thrill. Yes, the work’s traditional in the sense that it’s straightforwardly programmatic, but there’s a strength and consistency of imagination here that makes for a gripping listen.

Like an Ansel Adams landscape, Jones’s striking piece presents nature in all its raw inspiring beauty. Pursuing the photographic connection, Friedel displays a keen eye for outlines and contrast, the resulting ‘image’ intuitively—and dramatically—framed. The playing is rich and full bodied, especially in those broad, craggy perorations; it helps that engineer Fabian Frank gives the orchestra all the space they need. What a pleasure it is to hear the LSO out in the open as it were, and not constrained by the acoustic limitations of their usual venue. I simply can’t imagine the symphony’s splendid tuttis expanding in that hall with anything like the ease or tactility that they do in this one. All of which makes this another ‘find’.

New Yorker Stephen Albert’s Symphony No. 2 was unfinished at the time of his death in 1992. Orchestrated by the composer and pedagogue Sebastian Currier, the work has a brooding, rather Sibelian first movement. And while the writing isn’t as explicit or as extrovert as that of the other pieces here—textures are denser, colors more subtle—it’s not without spikes of excitement. The expansive climax at the end of the first movement is particularly impressive. The middle movement is both animated and colorful, its internal conversations and asides a delight. The finale, more equivocal, reveals a fine orchestral blend, beautifully caught by this very truthful and transparent recording. So yes, another ‘find’. (Good notes by Friedel, too.)

-- MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Release Date: July 06, 2018

  • Catalog Number: BIS-2118

  • UPC: 7318599921181

  • Label: BIS

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: 20th Century

  • Composer: Samuel Jones, Stephen J. Albert, Walter Piston

  • Conductor: Lance Friedel

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra


  1. Symphony No. 6

    Composer: Walter Piston

    Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra

    Conductor: Lance Friedel

  2. Symphony No. 3, "Palo Duro Canyon"

    Composer: Samuel Jones

    Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra

    Conductor: Lance Friedel

  3. Symphony No. 2

    Composer: Stephen Albert

    Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra

    Conductor: Lance Friedel