Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Albany
WORKS: Star-Spangled Symphony; A Dance Symphony; Amarillo – A Symphonic Celebration
PERFORMER: Sinfonia Varsovia/Ian Hobson
Don Gillis (1912-78) was a native of Missouri who was Arturo Toscanini’s producer at NBC, and later held appointments at various Southern universities. One American dictionary calls his music ‘thoroughly familiar and traditional in a popular vein’; and the odd implication that it seems familiar even on first hearing isn’t so wide of the mark. Gillis uses the usual repertoire of Americana – hymns and hoe-downs, Sousa and swing – with some wittily dislocated rhythms, but few melodic or harmonic surprises, so that the results are less like Copland than Leroy Anderson. But, compared to Anderson’s three-minute squibs, these pieces feel overblown: the Dance Symphony of 1949 lasts nearly 20 minutes, its successor the Star-Spangled Symphony – a portrait of America in the Forties – the best part of half an hour and the 1962 ‘symphonic celebration’ of Amarillo, Texas, a through-written 18 minutes. The unlikely combination of a Polish orchestra and the British-born winner of the 1981 Leeds Piano Competition as conductor produces generally tight and idiomatic playing, with raunchy brass and driving percussion; and the recording sounds well. But it’s hard for the performances to make a convincing case for music so easygoing that it doesn’t really go anywhere at all. Anthony Burton