LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Printemps I & II; Ballet mécanique; Fighting the Waves; A Jazz Symphony; Lithuanian Night; Jazz Sonata; Concerto for Chamber Orchestra; Violin Sonata No. 1
PERFORMER: Martyn Hill (tenor), Jagdish Mistry (violin), Hermann Kretzschmar (piano); Ensemble Modern/HK Gruber
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 68066 2
George Antheil’s name is known today, if it’s known widely at all, for his 1925 Ballet mécanique, in which he created a sound-world of sirens, propellers and electric bells that scandalised audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. Born in 1900, he self-consciously labelled himself the ‘bad boy of music’, and throughout the Twenties reinforced that billing with a series of orchestral and chamber works (though his subsequent music, most of it written for Hollywood, was far less controversial).
The Ensemble Modern collection, superbly played, provides a well thought-out guide to that climactic period in his career. It traces a path from the 1919 Lithuanian Night for string quartet, through the Ballet mécanique (performed here in the later version for four pianos and percussion) and the curious Fighting the Waves, which began life in 1929 as the incidental music to a play by WB Yeats, up to the Concerto for Chamber Orchestra from 1932, by which time the Stravinskian neo-classicism that had always underpinned Antheil’s music had come to the fore.
The sequence also includes the first of his two violin sonatas from 1923, full of the fierce rhythmic propulsion that was Antheil’s strongest suit as a composer, and vividly played by Jagdish Mistry and Hermann Kretzschmar. That sonata, and its smaller, though equally fascinating, companion work from the same year, are coupled on the Pavane disc with a violin sonata and a piano trio by the Polish composer Joanna Bruzdowicz. Both are nicely made, if rather conventional neo-classical works; the performances of these, and of the Antheil, seem first-rate. Andrew Clements