John Alden Carpenter's music is not well known to the general public today (nonetheless musicians), but thanks to the Naxos American Classics series, Carpenter's symphonic works are now on record. While I am only familiar with a vocal song cycle of his, Carpenter's music has always seemed to have an innate innocence and tunefulness, with interesting harmonies, all of which are exemplified in these symphonic works: Symphonies 1 & 2 and Adventures in a Perambulator.
Carpenter's 20 minute, one movement, First Symphony features utterly Romantic, tonal, American youthfulness and optimism, not to mention bushel-baskets full of charm. Lonely laments by solo woodwinds show the great melodic qualities of his music, sprite and bouncy sections with chattering woodwinds, bells, and percussion show his natural, colorful orchestrations, often with whimsy, and drama is shown in sweeping string lines and noble brass chorales of great breadth. While nothing is particularly memorable in his First Symphony, it is the moods he convincingly creates that last well past the first hearing. His Second Symphony, also under 20 minutes, is in three movements, each lasting just over 6 minutes. Featuring a large role for piano, the first movement balances itself between two moods, a menacing one at the start with brass and percussion, and a mood that is more a graceful dance with a slight lilting feel. String centered at the beginning, the second movement also alternates between a more complex harmonic forcefulness, and the simplicity of a light and calm melody with a sunny nature. The vivacious and cheery final movement, with its incessant rhythmical qualities, decides the works' ending mood of Romantic joyousness.
The popular Adventures in a Perambulator was an early outing in Carpenter's career. The program is the happenings of a baby and his/her nurse taking a morning stroll with the baby's pram. The interesting part is that the description of the day's events are taken from the perspective of the baby. A suite in six movements, the 26-minutes include titled movements (All Aboard, The Policeman, The Hurdy-Gurdy, The Lake, Dogs, and Dreams). Each are an almost impressionistic portrait utilizing harps and bells in addition to the orchestra. The Policeman and The Hurdy-Gurdy are more vivid, while the contrasting movements have a dreamy aura about them. Highly entertaining, the turn of the century work has charm oozing from all of its pores.
The National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine under John McLaughlin Williams doesn't seem suited for the music at first mention, but they are right at home. There is no dark brooding or heaviness marked in the score, nor do we get it from the performers; far from it. This is a better outing by the Ukrainian ensemble than other Naxos offerings and at budget price, is worth investigating. The only issue that I could possibly scrounge up is that it is all pretty light and fluffy, with no real meat and potatoes type of works. I find the shimmering, light musical quality of a neglected American composer, however, rather entertaining.