Chadwick: Symphony No. 2 (CD review)

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.


1 comment:

  1. Great, the revival of Chadwicks orchestral music. But, please, where is the rediscovery of his magnificent string quartets? There are just pretty obscure recordings by the Portland String Quartet, made in 1980 or 1990 en not available at any webshop.


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John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first 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.

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For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

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