McKAY: From a Moonlit Ceremony. Harbor Narrative. Symphony for
Seattle (Evocation Symphony)
HADLEY: Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 64.
The Ocean, Op.
99. The Culprit Fay, Op. 62
Another worthy entry in Naxos' American Classics series. As American orchestras for the most part have priced themselves out of the recording scene, this enterprising project features European orchestras, in this case the Ukraine National Symphony, a fine group that has figured prominently thus far in the series.
George Frederick McKay (1899-1970) was considered to be "Dean of Northwest Composers" and for more than four decades was Professor of Music at the University of Washington (1927-1968). Born in Washington State, he began composing when in high school and, in spite of his father's objections, attended Eastman School of Music where in 1923 he received the first composition degree ever conferred by the institution. McKay was recognized as a leading educator, composer and booster of American music. His works were widely performed and broadcast during this period with his music conducted by Stokowski, Beecham, Sevitsky, Hanson, Kreuger, Fennell and Arthur Fiedler. McKay also was a teacher; his students included William Bolcom, John Cage and Goddard Lieberson. Although apparently popular during his era, McKay's music seems to be forgotten today; Schwann/Opus lists no recordings, so this Naxos issue is of major importance for those interested in Americana.
From a Moonlit Ceremony was written in 1945 during McKay's second period, "The Years of Western Flavor," premiered at the Hollywood Bowl the following year with Stokowski on the podium, although this is not included in Oliver Daniel's list of premieres in his book Stokowski, A Counterpoint of View. There are four movements utilizing songs and dances of the Muckleshoot Indian tribe collected by the composer when he visited their reservation: Evocation, Demon Dance, Spirit Song and Festival Dance. All pleasant listening, although the Demon Dance is quite tame. Harbor Narrative, composed in 1934 for piano is McKay's earliest music on this CD; the later version for large orchestra heard here features the piano quite prominently. Although the composer considered this to be the best of his works up until that time, the re-orchestrated version was never performed during his lifetime. There are nine brief movements: Sea Horizon, En route, Voice of the City, Chanty, Men and Machines, Gulls, Waterfront March, Outward Bound and Into the Distance. Highlights are the evocative opening movement with its rich harp glissandi, and the exquisite oboe solo in Chanty. Symphony for Seattle was commissioned by the Seattle Music and Art Foundation to commemorate that city's centennial. There are three movements to this 25-minute work without colorful titles McKay often used: Andante - Allegro con moto, Andante teneramente e pastorale and Allegro vigoroso e ritmico. It's considered to be one of his finest, most mature works. It also is called "Evocation Symphony," a summing up of the past and combining it with a new-found clarity and commitment, avoiding use of folk tunes but showing influence of Janacek and Martinu.
Conductor John McLaughlin Williams, who wrote the fine CD program notes, leads superb performances. Producers Marina and Victor Ledin, along with engineer Andriy Mokrytsky, have achieved splendid sound with a natural perspective and wide dynamic range. Kudos to Naxos for this...and other releases in their American Classics series!