Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Antheil's music, for a change


George Antheil, Symphony 4 & 5, Over the Plains

You don't have to go very far into most articles about George Antheil before you come across the phrase "bad boy of music". There you go, it's happened again! That's the first thing that comes to mind for many when the name comes up. Here are some of others that rise to the top nowadays, thanks to John Allison, that web comics chronicler of high culture (in Destroy History, a story about Hedy Lamarr in WWII Hollywood):

Antheil's reputation is, more than any composer I can think of, a victim of the non-musical components of his life. We seem to value his work with Lamarr in inventing frequency-hopping spread-spectrum communication more than his actual music. This would be fine if his music weren't so attractive and impressive. Chandos begins another orchestral music series with this new disc of Antheil Symphonies, and it's nice to finally zero in on the actual music for a change. Both symphonies are muscular, energetic mid-century symphonies with Russian finger-prints all over them, both via the movie-score milieu in which Antheil lived and direct from the latest works of Prokofiev and Shostakovich. But they also have tender moments and the kind of very fine details that are the sign of an original musician.

We used to make fun of how British actors sounded when they were playing Americans in the movies and on TV. Nowadays, of course, that's no longer the case; Ewan McGregor plays not one but two Minnesotans to perfection in Noah Hawley's Fargo. The hallmark of this Chandos release is authenticity, which of course is an important component of all music, not just Early Music. It's no special surprise that a British orchestra under a Finnish conductor can be so convincing in this music, since Antheil is writing in an International Style, where Berlin and Paris loom nearly as large as his later home, Hollywood. But getting the last nuance of the American side of the Trenton, New Jersey native Antheil is an impressive, McGregor-level, achievement. We can't tell for sure until the score makes its way to orchestras on this side of the Atlantic, but this world premiere recording of Antheil's Over the Plains has just the right Gary Cooper movie studio backlot feel that proves it's the real cowboy thing.

Chandos nails the authentic feel with the cover of their disc, taken from this vintage postcard of Hollywood Boulevard at Night, from Lake County Museum. Bring on the rest of Antheil's symphonies!


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