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Orchestral Music (Hobson, Sinfonia Varsovia)

Quincy Porter , Ian Hobson , Sinfonia Varsovia Audio CD

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Neoclassic American Music from the Mid- 20th Century 8 Jun 2003
By J Scott Morrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Quincy Porter (1897-1966), at first glance, would appear to have been a stolid and insulated Yale man through and through. He was the son and grandson of Yale professors, studied under Yale professor Horatio Parker - as a classmate of Douglas Moore and Roger Sessions - and ended his career as professor of composition there; in fact, he died of a stroke while watching a Yale-Princeton football game on television. But he also played violin in theater orchestras (indeed, in the old Capitol Theater Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy before Ormandy went to Philadelphia), viola in a touring string quartet, and spent time in Paris (where he studied under D'Indy), Cleveland (where he studied with Ernest Bloch, having followed him when he moved to the Cleveland Institute from New York) and Boston (where he succeeded Frederick Converse as head of the New England Conservatory). He was a colleague, at Yale, of Paul Hindemith, whom he could not abide. He had the exterior of a bank manager, but his music sometimes expresses the emotions of a man with an active and passionate interior life.
Here we have the Symphony No. 1 (1934), a three movement work that is notable for clear contrapuntal lines, vigorous rhythms and occasionally stident polytonal passages. There is a good deal of modal filigree in the pastoral second movement accompanied by gently rocking string chords. The third movement, true to the previous two, makes use of much of the same thematic material and, after a mysterious introduction, goes rocketing along in muscular fashion to a fortissimo conclusion.
Poem and Dance (1932), only nine minutes long, opens (Poem) with a long-limbed and lyrical section made dark by low gong and harp in its lowest register. It has an ABA form and the dramatic middle section intensifies briefly before recapping the brooding mood of the opening section. The Dance, also in ABA form, has the reverse procedure, starting fast, slowing down and then speeding up again to an exciting finish. It is notable for the brash trumpet licks and the unusual use of a flyswatter on the snare drum, as well as for its hints of Latin American rhythms.
Symphony No. 2 (1962) is a much later work. It opens with a meditative Lento. Then comes a sardonic Scherzando with some Mahlerian grotesquerie that opens into a lighter mood before a rather abrupt ending that evaporates into the stratosphere while the wood-block rattles on. The Adagio is gently mournful, with occasional periods of heightened angst. The Allegro finale opens with a portentous announcement on the horns with an after-comment by oboes and piccolos that then leads to an active fugato treatment in the strings, setting the agenda for this bustling, even dizzy, movement. After some periods of relaxed tempi, quick dotted rhythms propel the piece to an exciting finish punctuated by rat-a-tatting snare drums.
Sinfonia Varsovia (formerly known as the Polish Chamber Orchestra), conducted expertly here by Ian Hobson, does a bang-up job. It is unlikely that these pieces central to Porter's oeuvre will get better performances any time soon.
If you respond to the music of Piston and Creston you will like this music.
Scott Morrison
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well crafted, expertly and subtly orchestrated, but lacking a truly original and immediately recognizable voice 2 Feb 2007
By Discophage - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Born into an old New England family and the grandson and son Yale professors, Quincy Porter (1897-1966) studied at Yale with Horatio Parker, then in Paris with Vincent d'Indy and with Ernest Bloch at the Cleveland Institute for Music where he was appointed to the faculty in 1922. After a subsequent three-year stay in Paris on a Guggenheim fellowship (1928-31), he held various teaching or directing positions in Academia in New York and Boston, culminating in his professorial appointment to Yale in 1946, which resulted in a flurry of compositions and a 1954 Pulitzer Prize along the way. He remained there until his retirement in 1965 and died shortly thereafter.

I discovered the music of Porter through his second violin and piano sonata played by Louis Kaufman (Music & Arts, with Bloch's first sonata, see my review of Still, Bloch and Porter). I was surprised by its Bloch-like vigor, unexpected in a composer whose training, career and outlook were, despite being a pupil of the Swiss-born composer, essentially academic and conservative. I decided then to further investigate his compositions - but I find myself slightly disappointed with this disc.

The music is well crafted, often powerful (as in the first symphony's opening Allegro moderato), pastoral in mood but with sudden outbursts in both symphonies' slow movements or in the opening "lento" movement of symphony # 2, triumphantly exuberant in the Finale of # 1, and always expertly and subtly orchestrated, even more so in the late, 2nd symphony, which not based on blocks of sound but on a very gossamer and delicate chamber-music like filigree, sometimes evocative of Stravinsky's neo-classical style or even Tippett's symphonic writing.

But unlike these two composers, what Porter lacks in his symphonies, I find, is a truly original and immediately recognizable voice - which is exactly what Hindemith had, whose presence at Yale Porter apparently loathed very much and adamantly opposed. Whether a case of conservatism against modernism (as the liner notes suggest - but Hindemith in that period of his compositional life wasn't so outrageously modern any more) or of anonymity against personality, the attitude doesn't really speak in favor of Porter's open-mindedness and breadth of outlook.

Still, Albany and Ian Hobson deserve praise for these authoritative recordings of a neglected composer, hardly a major one but nonetheless a fine craftsman well worth investigating by those interested in 20th century American composers.
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