George Whitefield Chadwick
Orchestral Works From An Early Master
Review by Wayne Donnelly
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CD Number: Reference Recordings RR-2104CD
George Chadwick (1854-1931) was a prominent figure in American musical life, known both as a composer and as Director of the New England Conservatory of Music for 35 years. Judging from the selections collected here, Chadwick's orchestral music was well crafted, energetic, and frequently graced with attractive melodies, especially in his slow movements. His incorporation of folk tunes, marches and dance music prefigures his fellow New Englander Charles Ives.
Chadwick composed three "official" symphonies, but thereafter chose to title his four-movement symphonic pieces, avoiding the term "Symphony." Two such works are presented here. The four movements of the 30-minute
Symphonic Sketches, one of Chadwick's best-known works, are entitled "Jubilee," "Noel," "Hobgoblin" and "A Vagrom Ballad." Sandwiched between the vigorous outer movements, the lovely "Noel" and scherzo-like "Hobgoblin" stand out as most inspired. Throughout this work and elsewhere, I hear passages reminiscent of Dvorak, who was resident in America near the end of the
19th century and who most certainly influenced American composers through both his music and his writings. The
Suite Symphonique shares many of its sibling's stylistic traits, but to these ears the
Suite sounds less vivacious -- although still worth hearing.
Among the other works in this set, Tam O'Shanter comes across as a good-humored romp. The brief, beautiful Elegy is appropriately mournful, and the quasi-Wagnerian
Melpomene Overture is darkly dramatic. The nine-movement Aphrodite contains some of Chadwick's most delicate orchestral writing. Everything on these two CDs is certainly good enough to warrant occasional concert programming.
This 2-for-the-price-of-1 set is another of Reference Recordings' several repackagings of earlier releases, and as we might expect, the sound of the orchestra is very well captured -- although not quite as spectacularly as on the label's Minnesota Orchestra recordings. The Czech State Philharmonic of Brno is not the equal of Prague's illustrious Czech Philharmonic, but it is a good group nonetheless, digging into these unfamiliar pieces with spirit. Conductor Serebrier offers sturdy interpretations, although I can imagine more exciting ones -- perhaps by my local band, American music champion Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony. I recommend this set to anyone interested in less traveled musical paths or in the state of American symphonic music at the turn of the