ANTHEIL: Symphony No. 1 "Zingareska." Symphony No. 6
"after Delacroix." Archipelago.
A welcome CD although it adds just one work to the Antheil discography, the Symphony No.1. The fine CD notes by Eckhardt van den Hoogeen point out that the numbering of this American composer's symphonies is totally confused, as several symphonies were not in the numbered group; thus the Symphony No. 4 is actually his Fifth, the Symphony No. 5 is his Seventh, and the Symphony No. 6 is the Eighth. It is unlikely they all be renumbered as was the case with Antonin Dvorak, whose Ninth Symphony for many years was known as the Fifth.
The 31-minute First Symphony is relatively free from the composer's later huge outbursts of sound. Premiered in Berlin in 1922, it was perhaps the first time Antheil had heard a major work of his own in concert. The CD booklet goes into considerable detail about the composer's impressions of the occasion, particularly how incredible it seemed to him to hear this music in live performance. The first movement is serenely idyllic for the most part, the second a frothy scherzo with touches of jazz. The first clarinetist of the orchestra found his part in this movement amusing and started to laugh during the rehearsal, with other members of the orchestra joining in. It isn't quite clear why Antheil labeled this movement "alla zingaresco, poi 'ragtime'," although he does borrow a bit from Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky -- hardly "ragtime." The third movement is a langorous Doloroso elevata with shimmering textures. Antheil said of this that, "one hears tunes of many years ago -- old sad tunes with heart-breaking memories." The energetic final movement, Ragtime, bristles with energy; after about seven minutes it just seems to stop -- and it too never really sounds like "ragtime". Overall it's an odd "symphony" but a compelling one.
The Symphony No. 6 (actually his 8th) is known to collectors from its recent recording on Naxos with the Ukraine NSO conducted by Theodore Kuchar. This is the symphony that suggests Shostakovich and Prokofiev in a very exhilarating, positive, way. The CD ends with Archipelago, a "rhumba" that doesn't sound like a rhumba, composed in 1935 according to CD notes which also state it was performed by the General Motors SO under Howard Barlow in April, 1934. Later, with some revisions, it became the third movement of his Symphony No. 2 a work currently not available on recordings. Archipelago is included on a Centaur CD coupled with the complete ballet Capital of the World and Symphony No. 5, with the Slovak State Philharmonic conducted by Barry Kolman, a CD well worth owning just for the remarkable ballet.
Hugh Wolff and the Frankfurt Orchestra offer superlative performances; their recording of Symphony No. 6 is slightly superior to the recent Naxos version; however both CDs are essential because of couplings. cpo's engineers have done a fine job as well. Recommended.
R.E.B. (May 2000)