Griffes is known as America’s most notable impressionistic composer, who sadly died at age 35 or he might have had a profound influence on American music. Combining his music with Korngold is appropriate because both composers were influenced by the French Impressionists, had studied in Germany, and were adept at orchestration. Griffes transcribed his piano piece The White Peacock for full orchestra and it has become his best-known work, but before the end of his life never got to orchestrating the two center movements of his four-part suite: Nightfall and The Fountain of Aqua Paola. The last, Clouds – his impressionistic take on the same subject covered by Debussy in his Nocturnes – was transcribed but had some discrepancies.
Composer, arranger, ethnomusicologist Craig Leon – who also produced this CD – transcribed the two center movements for orchestra and corrected the problems with Clouds. Therefore this recording is the world premiere of the complete orchestral version of the Roman Sketches, and most welcome. All four portions convert most effectively to orchestral garb, making one feel that Griffes could have had a successful career as a composer for films if only he had lived longer.
Korngold’s Symphonic Serenade is for strings only and shows the composer’s orchestration skills in the variety of rich textures and sounds he achieves in spite of this limitation. Strong melodic content is a feature of Korngold’s music and is heard in all four movements of the work. The long slow movement communicates intense passion under the influence of Mahlerian expressionism. The Finale has a lovely melody and a perpetuum mobile section, ending the serenade with the feeling that this is one of the composer’s lighter works rather than a full-fledged symphony. Sonics are excellent for standard 44.1K, but I was nonplussed by the designation “Gold” when the disc was actually standard aluminum. [If you’re a Korngold Kollector, ASV has three other CDs of rarely-heard works by the composer, all featuring the Bruckner Orchestra.]
– John Sunier