WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 6; Archipelago
PERFORMER: Frankfurt RSO/Hugh Wolff
CATALOGUE NO: 999 604-2
George Antheil, born in New Jersey 100 years ago in July, peaked early in his career, scandalising Twenties Paris with his Futurist ‘machine music’, like the startlingly original Ballet mécanique. But even before that, this self-styled ‘bad boy of music’ had written a work in the respectable form of the symphony; and during his chequered later career, which ended in Hollywood, he composed another five (and two more without numbers).
CPO presents the first and last, together with a brash 1935 concert rumba. No. 1 includes two slow movements in which fragments of melody drift across a hazily atmospheric background, to Ivesian effect – though Ives was unknown in 1922. Two quick movements combine ragtime rhythms with blatant echoes of Stravinsky: bits of Petrushka, a ‘Rewrite of Spring’. No. 6 of 1948 is an equally obvious attempt to go one better than Prokofiev’s wartime Fifth, with snatches of Americana thrown in. The American Hugh Wolff leads his Frankfurt orchestra in go-for-it performances, vividly recorded.
Naxos partners No. 6 with No. 4, premiered by Stokowski in 1944, and a 1948 concert overture depicting an episode in the American Revolution. Both these are hero-worshipping homages to the martial Shostakovich of the Leningrad Symphony – though their stop-start collage methods are no substitute for Shostakovich’s organic movement-building. Theodore Kuchar’s Ukrainian orchestra plays well in an idiom which it must have found unexpectedly familiar, and is well recorded. But Antheil the symphonist, oddly fascinating if deeply flawed, is better represented all round by the premium-price CPO disc. Anthony Burton