Ormandy conducts American Music = VINCENT: Symphonic Poem after Descartes; Symphony in D; DELLO JOIO: Variations, Chaconne, and Finale – Philadelphia Orchestra/ Eugene Ormandy – Pristine Audio PASC 336, 63:44 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
Pristine extends its commitment to the legacy of Eugene Ormandy (1899-1985) with transfers of American scores he committed to disc 1957-1959. Composer John Vincent (1902-1977) was an Alabama native who studied with George Chadwick and Walter Piston. As a composer, Vincent’s music is known for its rhythmic vitality and lyricism. Although his music assumes essentially classical forms, it remains distinctly individual. The free tonality of his work makes use of what he calls “paratonality”: the predominance of a diatonic element in a polytonal or atonal passage. The Symphony in D (rec. 14 April 1957) in one movement was commissioned by the Louisville Symphony in 1954 and premiered by Robert Whitney. There are two tempo indications: Andante moderato and Allegro. Vincent in an extensive program note claims that the primal affect of the piece combines joy and celebration “of life and good friends.”
A tightly unified work, the Symphony in D: A Festival Piece in One Movement calls upon Ormandy’s string, brass, and woodwind forces to exert their sonorous power in the course of a twenty-minute work that lyrically and occasionally forcefully unravels “the growing consciousness of joy, “my thankfulness for a rich and full life,” as Vincent expresses it. In huge periodic swathes of sound, the music might allude to Sibelius, but the affect stays within the American contour of rhythmic forcefulness tempered by personal doxology. Halfway through the piece a fugal element enters, strongly rhythmic but no less hortatory and flamboyant in the manner of military band music. The coda, explosively jubilant, makes a decisive impression as a virtuoso showpiece.
Vincent’s Symphonic Poem after Descartes (1958) has the honor of being the only work of orchestral music inspired by the French philosopher. The music (rec. 1 April 1959) is set in two major sections that divide according to titles taken from the French thinker’s oeuvre, like “Intuitions” and “Meditations.” This is a colorful and boisterous work whose material evolves from the tympani that raps out the rhythm of “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”) while trumpets in triplets drive the piece forward. Occasionally, the music halts in its swelling progress and looms quizzical, the woodwinds pondering the great questions a la Charles Ives. The Ormandy sound looms large for the “Vortex” episode, that opulent combination of Philadelphia strings, winds, and brass that Stokowski helped to manufacture.
Part II opens with the Folium Passacaglia, an aggressive sonic mix that has busy strings pitted against chorale motifs in the winds plus cymbals, the sound slightly reminiscent of Britten’s music for Peter Grimes. The next section, “Exaltation,” indulges in some exotic colors along with a drunken swagger we know from Sibelius or Respighi, although the battery parts (with bassoon) remain strictly American. Huge brass work marks the “Contemplation” sequence that soon segues through rather “traditional” ecstatic harmonies with harp and tympani into the Finale that suggests a detached state of spiritual apotheosis, a stone’s throw from the Hovhaness formula for ecstasy.
Norman Dello Joio (1913-2008) produced a body of work that sustains the spirit with its innately lyric and dramatic power. Studies with Wagenaar and Hindemith, in addition to his own work at the organ, permit him a great color capacity within an orchestral score. His 1947 Variations, Chaconne and Finale in D (rec. 14 April 1957), dedicated to his organist father, takes its cue from the Kyrie found in the Mass of the Angels in the Gregorian liturgy. Bruno Walter gave its New York premier with the Philharmonic. Some may recall this Kyrie tune as it appears in the film Brother Sun, Sister Moon, about St. Francis of Assisi. The first movement gravitates from G Major, using six variations of diverse tempi and character; while the second movement, Chaconne, takes the first four notes of the theme to build an “antique” but massive structure harmonized into a modern orchestra’s palette with great skill. The Finale (Allegro vivo) transforms the Gregorian idea into contemporary, secular terms that move ineluctably into a triumphal chorale.
Ormandy inspires his orchestra strings to their incandescent best in these scores, hence the epithet regarding those “fabulous Philadelphians” of whom Herbert Kupferberg wrote with equally glowing tropes.
“Perhaps the most fluently consummate performer on the keyboard of all time…”