Most often, the only CD's of Virgil Thomson's music you can buy are of his film music, all excellent compositions, but it is nice to have some recordings of his concert music, presented here thanks to Naxos' American Composers series.
Symphony on a Hymn Tune is just that, "variations" on the tunes How Firm a Foundation and Yes, Jesus Loves Me, and some other pentatonic themes he creates to tie the piece together. There are a few Ivesian sounds portrayed, as well as some jazzy syncopations; a great American masterpiece.
Symphony 2 is very diatonic; from the opening trumpet melody (evocative of Lt. Kije), to the lyrical andante, to the restrained, yet grand finale; it is charming from start to finish. In contrast, Symphony 3 seems to be unified through dance. Rhythm and perpetual motion seem to guide the music along. Perhaps a bit more on the serious side to begin with, the 3rd Symphony also revels in melodiousness and optimism, something shared in all of these works.
Pilgrims and Pioneers is a concert version of music written for a short film at the 1964 Worlds Fair. Again using a wide variety of hymn and folk tunes, this time it is used in a much more pondering and dissonant manner, again, almost in the manner of Ives. It is a kind of mish-mash of ideas, perfect for visualizing the American immigrant.
The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra plays this music with great fervor. The hall is reverberant, although, not overly so. Since most of this music is not easy to find on one CD, this disk is an easy recommendation.