HENRY KIMBALL HADLEY: Scherzo Diabolique; Salome; Cleopatra’s Night; Othello Overture; San Francisco; The Enchanted Castle – BBC Concert Orch./Rebecca Miller – Dutton Epoch CDLX 7319 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi], 78:16, (9/11/15) ***:
Pleasant enough and somewhat obscure but just not that interesting.
Henry Kimball Hadley was an early twentieth century American composer from Boston who studied under George Whitefield Chadwick and who became fairly popular and respected in his time. Hadley and others in this time and place were writing music that sought, mainly, to be at least the equal of anything that Europe was producing at the time; such as the works of Elgar, Dukas, Finzi, et al. However – albeit a sign of the times – therein lies the problem when trying to assimilate these works into a collective listening experience.
Each of these works makes for pleasant listening; at best charming and at least, nothing too ‘strange’ or tough on the ears. However, there are heavy strains of other composers such as Elgar, Dukas and the “Boston Six” and even early Richard Strauss that echo throughout but minus anything truly captivating or original to garner our lasting attention. We have themes or concepts on the timeless subjects of Salome, Cleopatra, Shakespeare in three works and the music is fairly picturesque and programmatic. I felt that Salome, after the Oscar Wilde tragedy, dragged a bit despite some nice moments. I did admire the centerpiece flute solo in Cleopatra’s Night with its requisite Arabian feel.
Interestingly, I felt the two most compelling pieces here were the last two. San Francisco is a concert overture inspired, in part, by the composer’s trip to the lovely city and his experience in conducting their orchestra. There are some unusually innovative touches, for the time, such as some impressionistic chordal progressions and some foghorns and bird calls emulated throughout. The movement depicting the “Chinese Quarter” was also evocative without delving into cliché. I also felt that The Enchanted Castle was an interesting little work intended for student orchestras.
I admit that the other works here just did not do much for me and even San Francisco does not make me want to dash out and find more of Hadley’s music. He was, clearly, a talented man. The problem is that these works and those of his peers at the time do not either overcome in quality the works by the big European names they sought to emulate nor do they create the first of a truly “American” sound.
Not to Hadley’s fault, to be sure. It would take Ives, Copland and others to see the genetics behind the “American” sound with its jazz and blues influences that – in 1920s Boston – were barely considered legitimate art. Kudos to the forces of the BBC, conductor Rebecca Miller and Dutton Epoch for the sound and performances are top notch.