WORKS: Euterpe; Angel of Death; Aphrodite; Melpomene; Thalia
PERFORMER: Nashville SO/Kenneth Schermerhorn
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559117
George Whitefield Chadwick (1854-1931) was just the kind of ‘respectable’ New England composer that the young Charles Ives loved to hate. But the conservative solidity of Chadwick’s German training was tempered by hints of the progressive Wagner, enhanced by an imaginative ear for orchestral sonorities, and enlivened by a sense of humour and a fondness for vernacular Americanisms. Even Ives might have enjoyed Chadwick’s ‘Vagram Ballad’, a picture of a tramps’ encampment complete with mock-pompous fanfares and ragtime syncopations.
The Ballad is the finale of Chadwick’s colourful, if perhaps over-long, Symphonic Sketches. These are included in Reference Recordings’ double-album of reissues alongside a similarly proportioned Suite symphonique, an expansive symphonic poem inspired by a statue of the goddess Aphrodite, a strong overture named after the tragic muse Melpomene, a strangely leisurely tone poem based on Robert Burns’s riotous Tam O’Shanter, and a noble Elegy to Chadwick’s pupil and friend Horatio Parker. The performances under the experienced José Serebrier are first-rate, and the recording conveys both detail and a sense of space, though a persistent hum intrudes in silences.
On Naxos’s new disc, Kenneth Schermerhorn offers another Aphrodite, slightly less sharply characterised than Serebrier’s, and another Melpomene, more broadly conceived but equally convincing. He adds a second, more concise, tone poem inspired by a sculpture, Angel of Death, and two more overtures honouring the muses, Thalia rather four-square but Euterpe extremely attractive. With excellent playing and a recording scarcely less vivid than that of its higher-priced competitor, this is an extremely recommendable bargain. Anthony Burton