This disc demonstrates why Piston is regarded by some critics and fans as America's finest symphonist. It features invigorating performances from Seattle/Schwarz of two of Piston's three best symphonies, the Second and the Sixth. (The Fourth, which for me is Piston's other truly great symphony, is available on a companion disc.)
The first movement of the Second is one of Piston's most remarkable creations: it juxtaposes a brooding, Brahmsian first subject with a jig-like, made-in-America second idea. Perhaps not since Haydn's Hen Symphony has a sonata form enclosed two such strikingly contrasted themes!
The Sixth, with four movements (instead of three as in the Second) is an even greater demonstration of Piston's symphonic craft. The work features a witty scherzo and a typically terse, rousing finale--but its heart is the glowing, arching slow movement. It's as gorgeous a movement as you'll find in a twentieth-century symphony and a definitive rejoinder to those who dismiss Piston's work as "dry" or "academic".
The man possessed one of the great musical minds of the twentieth century--certainly one of the most lucid. Anyone looking for great, accessible twentieth-century symphonic music evincing a true mastery of form, motion, counterpoint, orchestration, and expressive content will thoroughly enjoy these two underrated symphonies. (Piston, btw, wrote *the* books on counterpoint, harmony, and orchestration.) The Sinfonietta, which rounds out the disc, is a somewhat lesser work. It could be dismissed as an example of brittle neo-classicism in the Stravinskian mode--but it's still an energetic and likeable piece.