WORKS: Symphony No. 2
PERFORMER: Chadwick: Tam O’Shanter; Rip van Winkle Overture; Melpomene Overture; Detroit SO/Neeme Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9439 DDD
The American composer Randall Thompson’s Symphony No. 2 (1931) was popular in its time (Bruno Walter and Leonard Bernstein conducted it), and the piece retains a toehold in the American orchestral repertoire today. The symphony’s unforced allusions to negro spirituals, blues and jazz, its easy lyricism, and occasionally more vigorous approach to the task of writing an accessible symphonic work in an identifiably American idiom all help to make it ‘an evergreen example of heartfelt Americana’, to quote Michael Fleming’s somewhat uninformative booklet notes. And though Thompson lacks the genius of a Copland, Harris or Barber for producing memorable material, his Second Symphony predates many of their more famous compositions.
George Chadwick, representative of an earlier generation more content with European musical models, nevertheless drew on American literary sources for inspiration, as his early Rip van Winkle Overture of 1879 entertainingly demonstrates. The Melpomene Overture (1887), named after the tragic Muse, borrows from Tristan, though, as with its predecessor, Mendelssohn turns out to be its predominant influence. This mini-survey of Chadwick concludes with his later symphonic ballad, Tam O’Shanter (1915), which provides a somewhat rambling gloss on Robert Burns’s poem in a style owing more to Strauss and Elgar, spiced with the odd Scottish folk tune. Keith Potter