TOWER: Made in America. Tambor. Concerto for Orchestra.
Nashville Symphony Orch/Leonard Slatkin, cond.
NAXOS 8.559328 (B) TT: 55:58
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HEADLEY: California Suite. Piano Concerto No. l "Argentango." Piano Concerto No. 2. Symphony No. 1 for Radio.
Anna Bogolyubova, pianist; Russian Philharmonic Orch/Dmitry Yablonsky, cond.
NAXOS 8.559300 (B) TT: 64:02
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IVES: Variations on "America." Overture and March "1776." They Are There! (A War Song March). Old Home Days (suite for band, arr. Elkus). March Intercollegiate. Fugue in C. March "Omega Lambda Chi." Variations on "Jerusalem the Golden." A Son of a Gambolier. Postlude in F. March "Country Band." Decoration Day. Charlie Rutlage. The Circus Band. Runaway Horse on Main Street. March No. 6, with "Here's to Good Old Yale." "The Alcotts."
"The President's Own" United States Marine Band/Colonel Timothy W. Foley, cond.
NAXOS 8.570559 (B) TT: 73:22
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LOCKLAIR: Symphony of Seasons (Symphony No. 1) (2002). Lairs of Soundings (A Triptych for Soprano and String Orchestra) (1982). Phoenix and Again (An Overture for Full Orchestra). In Memory—H.H.L. (for String Orchestra) (2005). Concerto for Harp and Orchestra (2004).
Janeanne Houston, soprano; Jacquelyn Bartlett, harp; Slovak Radio Symphony Orch/Kirk Trevor, cond.
NAXOS 8.559337 (B) TT: 75:14
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GOTTSCHALK: Symphony No. 2, "Á Montevideo." Symphonie romantique, "A Night in the Tropics." Tarantelle for Piano and Orchestra. Escenas Campestres Cubanas—Opera in One Act. Concert Variations on" l'hymne portugais du Roi Louis I." Ave Maria. La Casa del Joven Enrique por Méhul—Grand Overture.
Michael Gurt, pianist; Melissa Barrick, soprano; Anna Noggle, soprano; Darryl Taylor, tenor; Richard Ziebarth, bass-baritone; Hot Springs Festival Symphony Orch/Richard Rosenberg, cond.
NAXOS 8.559320 (B) TT: 76:56
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Here are five more major additions to the Naxos American Classics series. Most important is the collection of music by Joan Tower (b. 1938), featuring Made in America, a 13-minute orchestral work partially funded by Ford Motor Company and the NEA, written for 65 of the smaller American orchestras. Tower knew the work would be performed by many community orchestras and wrote the music with that in mind. It's rather like an orchestral fantasy based on America the Beautiful. It was premiered by the Glen Falls NY Symphony in October 2005 and since then has been performed in all fifty states. It's refreshing, brilliant music, as is Tambor, which was commissioned by Mariss Jansons and the Pittsburgh Symphony who gave the premiere in May 1998. This 15-minute piece focuses on percussion, and Tower is not afraid to let them loose. The Concerto for Orchestra, in two parts with a total playing time of about 29 minutes, is a scintillating orchestral showpiece. Written in 1991 for the St. Louis Symphony, New York Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony orchestras, it is a fascinating work that challenges all members of the orchestra. Leonard Slatkin, now music advisor of the Nashville Symphony, leads them in spectacular performances stunningly recorded by producer and engineer Tom Handley in June 2006 in Laura Turner Concert Hall in Nashville (audiophiles will delight in the massive percussion effects).

Hubert Klyne Headley (1906-1995) born in West Virginia, moved to California when very young and later attended the Eastman School of Music. At the height of his career he was recognized as a composer, pianist and conductor, as well as a distinguished teacher and administrator associated with many leading musical organizations. All of his music on this CD (apparently premiere recordings) is surely pleasant to hear, but unmemorable. California Suite, composed in 1939 on a commissioned by Standard Oil for the opening of San Francisco's Golden Gate Exposition, has three movements: Golden Gate, Yosemite and Fiesta. Symphony No. 1 for Radio dates from 1946; Stan McDaniel's program notes suggest influences of Sibelius and Nielsen which I cannot detect. The two rather brief piano concertos are quite different, the first a vivacious, percussive work played in 1942 by José Iturbi in Rochester, the second "dedicated to the suffering and triumphs of oppressed peoples." The performers are all Russian, and superb musicians. Pianist Anna Bogolyubova is at the beginning of what promises to be an auspicious career, and conductor Dmitry Yablonsky and the Russian Philharmonic do what can be done for Headley's music.

Naxos' new Wind Band Classics series is another admirable enterprise for the label. This Ives disk is a brilliant addition, a well-filled (73:22) CD of music of Charles Ives arranged for band by James B. Sinclair, Jonathan Elkus and Keith Brion. Delightful music played to perfection by the U.S. Marine Band directed by Colonel Timothy W. Foley, recorded in state-of-the-art sonics. Let's have more!

Dan Locklair (b. 1949) obviously is a major figure on today's American music scene. His name might not be very familiar to collectors, a situation that will be rectified by this splendid issue. Up until now, most recordings of his music have concentrated on small-scale works, but here we have two major symphonic works. The 31-minute Symphony of Seasons (Symphony No. 1), composed in 2002 and commissioned by a consortium of American orchestras, was inspired by excerpts from a set of poems called The Seasons by 18th century British poet James Thomson. There are four movements: Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer. The lovely English horn solo in Winter is particularly effective. Lairs of Soundings, scored for soprano and large string orchestra, dates from 1982, is based on poems by Ursula K. Le Guin: Invocation and Wordhoard, separated by a wordless vocal part in which the soprano sings only vowel sounds. Phoenix and Again is "an overture for full orchestra" written to commemorate Wake Forest University's Sesquicentennial in 1983, based on a Thuringian folk song that is the school's Alma Mater. The moving In Memory—H.H.L. was written in 2005 in memory of the composer's mother. The gem of this release is the extraordinary 2004 Harp Concerto, a consortium commission from a group of American orchestras headed by harpist Jacquelyn Bartlett who is soloist in this recording, a major addition to the rather limited concerted repertory for the instrument. Locklair's music is new to me, sometimes sounding a bit like the best of Copland, always imaginative and beautifully scored. Young American conductor Kirk Trevor leads the Russian orchestra in these excellent performances, and the recorded sound is typical of Naxos. I'll return to this CD often.

Yet another Naxos winner is their CD devoted to music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869). Gottschalk, called "the Chopin of the Creoles," was a sensation during his era both as a pianist and as a composer. This disk supposedly contains his complete works for orchestra, although most of them had to be reconstructed. In addition to the familiar "Night in the Tropics" symphony and "Grand Tarantelle" for piano and orchestra we have another showpiece for piano and orchestra, "Variations on a Portuguese hymn of Roi Louis I," Ave Maria arranged for soprano and orchestra, the 11-minute Symphony No. 2, a charming 13-minute "opera," and Gottschalk's spectacular "grand overture" on themes from Méhul's Young King Henry's Hunt, wildly exuberant music scored for five pianos, nine horns and an orchestra of 112 players, making rousing sounds on this splendid recording. This is a totally delightful disk, superb in performance and sound. Along with the other Naxos issues mentioned, this is an important release in the overview of American music.

R.E.B. (September 2007)