Also, Symphonic Sketches. Theodore Kuchar, National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. Naxos 8.559213.
I've read that around the turn of the twentieth century George Whitefield Chadwick (1854-1931) was America's most-prominent composer. Hard to believe, considering that today most ardent music lovers have hardly encountered him and that almost everybody else has never heard of him. The fact is, he didn't have a lot of competition around that time, with George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, John Cage, Walter Piston, Ferde Grofe, Virgil Thomson, and the rest coming after him. Chadwick was a conservative neo-Romanticist whose main rivals at the time seem to have been John Philip Sousa in an entirely different medium; the more progressive Charles Ives, whom hardly anyone could understand; and Edward MacDowell, an old-timer by then.
This Naxos issue couples two of Chadwick's most-popular pieces, the Second Symphony and the Symphonic Sketches on the same disc. Both of them are lightweight stuff, to be sure, but of the two works, it's the Symphonic Sketches that shows the most spark, at least under Maestro Theodore Kuchar and the National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine.
The Symphony No. 2 begins in a rather lackadaisical fashion, no matter what Maestro Kuchar and his players try to do with it; but it soon picks up with a bouncy little Scherzo, a Mendelssohnian ditty that the composer introduced on its own and we often hear played by itself these days. There follows a solemn, drowsy slow movement that builds to a grand climax and a Finale that is quite jaunty, if still featherlight.
The more-provocative Symphonic Sketches really work like a small symphony, divided into four brief tone poems: "Jubilee," a bombastically festive piece; "Noel," a slow, tranquil movement; "Hobgoblin," the most creative composition on the disc and very reminiscent of Mendelssohn again or Mussorgsky; and "A Vagrom Ballad" ("Vagrant's Song"), a kind of impressionistic, tongue-in-cheek affair. Conductor Kuchar's way with things is to let them all unfold at their own pace, with, as I say, the "Hobgoblin" the most atmospheric.
The sound the Naxos engineers provide seems oddly bunched up in the center of the soundstage and lacks a real dynamic punch. Otherwise, the sonic presentation serves the music well, being slightly lightweight itself.
About the Author
I've been listening to classical music most of my life, starting with the classical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first classical recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor. Today, I'm retired from teaching and using a pair of VMPS RM40s. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (moviemet.com, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.
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