Rorem: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3

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COMPOSERS: Rorem
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3
PERFORMER: Bournemouth SO/José Serebrier
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559149
Ned Rorem: songwriter, diarist… and symphonist? Here, just in time for the American composer’s 80th birthday on 23 October, are all three of his rarely heard symphonies, written between 1948 and 1958 – the first two in premiere recordings. The idiom is broadly traditional, and the manner essentially lyrical rather than dramatic. Indeed, the suite-like First maintains an almost continuous melodic line throughout each movement. The Second does begin with a coherent large-scale movement, lasting more than 15 minutes, but this overbalances the structure, with the two remaining movements so short as to be little more than a double coda. And when the opening Passacaglia of the Third attempts a more symphonic developmental technique, the manifold repetitions of a single four-note phrase sound somewhat laboured. Nevertheless, this is Rorem’s most successful symphony, a five-movement piece with a breezy syncopated scherzo, a pair of expressive slow movements and a virtuoso rondo finale.

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Serebrier is occasionally a little pedestrian – that Passacaglia flows more spontaneously in Maurice Abravanel’s Seventies recording of the Third, now in a VoxBox set – but mostly responsive to the delights of Rorem’s unforced lyricism and bursts of energy. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, vividly recorded, sounds accomplished and confident throughout. Anthony Burton