Naxos continues its welcome reissue of orchestral music of Walter Piston (1894-1976) performed by Gerard Schwarz conducting the Seattle Symphony originally published in the early 1990s on Delos. They have shuffled the contents of the original discs. This one contains Symphony No. 2 and Symphony No. 6, surely two of Piston's most ingratiating scores.
The first movement of Symphony No. 2, written during the Second World War and with an unmistakable American flavor, contains two memorable themes, the opening one a long serious string melody followed then by a raffishly jazzy tune with catchy syncopations. The working-out turns the first theme into a delicious canon. The serene Adagio has a Coplandesque simplicity and one of Piston's loveliest melodies, played first by clarinet and then taken up by other winds. The Finale, a kind of rondo, is propelled to an exciting finish by syncopated brass and percussion. This is the Piston made familiar by his most popular score, 'The Incredible Flutist.'
The Sixth Symphony was written for the 75th birthday of the Boston Symphony in 1955 and premièred by them under Charles Munch. Movement I is string-dominated, with flashes of harp and piccolo, and is richly harmonized. A long flowing melody features prominently. The second movement is a scherzo with whirling leggerissimo strings punctuated by manic percussion. There is an undercurrent of anxiety. The Adagio that follows, then, is a welcome island of calm. The cello, against impressionistic harmonies, sings an alluring theme, later handed over to the oboe and other winds. The finale, Allegro energico, returns us to bright triadic harmonies and is unmistakably American in its melodic outlines and jazzy syncopations. The work concludes with a restatement of the symphony's opening theme in glorious full-throated peroration.
The Seattle Symphony, from their long familiarity with Piston's music, plays these complex scores with the kind of complete control that leads to the illusion of spontaneity. They obviously loved this music, as do those of us who have been made familiar with it through their recordings.
Total timing is a bit short at 50:56.