No.1, Op.20; No.2, Op.35; No.3, Op.48 ("Three Mysteries")
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/Theodor Kuchar
Naxos 8.559034 (B) (DDD) TT: 72:39
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Paul Creston belongs to the postwar generation of American symphonists including Walter Piston, William Schuman, and David Diamond, all of whose work shares a lively rhythmic drive, restrained lyricism, and overall affirmative mood that unmistakably stamps it as American. Originally acclaimed for pointing the way to the symphony's future, these composers would later fall out of fashion for working in that "outmoded" form, and in a basically tonal language to boot; only recently has their music begun to emerge from long neglect.
The present performances are not uniformly ideal, but to have the first three of Creston's five symphonies available in one convenient, inexpensive package is a boon. By far the most varied and fully-developed is Symphony 3, depicting the three great mysteries of Catholicism - the Nativity, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection - in sounds that are by turns questing and serene; its best moments strike a note at once cantabile and dramatically stirring. Symphony 1 also works well, especially in its central movements: a quirky, deliberate scherzo, and a dignified slow movement, building gradually into a full-throated outpouring. I was less taken with the two-movement Symphony 2, which comes across better on Neeme J”rvi's Detroit recording (Chandos CHAN 9390). Here, the pleasant first movement meanders aimlessly. The second incorporates the familiar device of a broad string line soaring over a bustling accompaniment; but where Piston, say, would have fashioned a theme of really distinctive contour and profile, Creston’s tune is unremarkable.
Kuchar draws solid playing and an idiomatic sense of phrase and rhythm from his Ukrainian forces. The woodwind presence lacks vividness, and it's hard to tell whether to blame the actual playing or the clear but rather plain recording.
S.F.V. (Aug. 2001)