Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

WALTER PISTON (1894-1976)
Symphony No. 6 (1955) 25.34
Concertino for Piano and Chamber Orchestra (1937) 12.34
Concerto for Orchestra (1933) 12.48
Concerto for String Quartet, Wind Instruments and Percussion (1976) 10.00
Moscow Radio SO/Alexander Gauk (rec 1962)
Marjorie Mitchell (piano) Göteborg SO/William Strickland (rec 1963)
Polish National Radio Orchestra/William Strickland (rec 1969)
Emerson Quartet/Juilliard Orchestra/Sixten Ehrling (rec May 1978)
all stereo recordings ADD CITADEL CTD 88134 [61.55]
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You never hear that much about Citadel. I am not at all sure why that should be. Their catalogue is at ease in spanning both classical and film worlds. Much of their classical side comprises reissues of rare repertoire. The label hosts a high proportion of 'gold standard' Americana as this and other discs demonstrate.

All but the symphony derive from CRI LPs licensed for the first time onto CD. The symphony is taken from Melodiya LP 33C0255-56.

The range covered on the CD is wide. It takes in two works from the 1930s, adds the 1950s symphony (surely the disc's raison d'etre) and concludes with a work from his very last year. The Symphony is in four movements of which the second and fourth are very short. In the early 1960s the Soviets seem to have taken to recording foreign orchestral works. They recorded the Alan Bush and Rawsthorne Second Symphonies and are also reputed to have done Roy Harris's Fifth Symphony. The Piston Symphony was written for the 75th anniversary of the Boston SO as also was the Martinu Fifth Symphony (the two were coupled together on an LP and toured together during the mid-1950s).

The Sixth does not have the direct access to lyricism which you find in the Second or Fourth Symphonies. The work dazzles with refinement (harp and strings in first movement) and with virtuosic scampering figures (I thought of Walton's Britten Variations). The masterly adagio sereno opens with a prominent sombre cello lament leading to the searing starlight of the strings and then rising to a brassy statement of contorted and impassioned grandeur. The concluding allegro energico is a hailstorm of brightness - recalling some of the propulsive energy of the second symphony's finale.

The Piano Concertino is neo-classical with the piano constantly in Stravinskian spate apart from in the middle section where a cello solo looks forward to the same instrument's work in the adagio of the sixth symphony. The Concerto for Orchestra sounds very much like a concerto grosso unwittingly summoning up echoes of the Bach Double Violin Concerto and the De Falla Harpsichord Concerto. In the central movement the orchestra crows, slides and slews over the scenery after a commanding Hary Janos type 'sneeze'. The finale is memorable for a colloquy for the deep resinous brass and a gaunt drizzle of a fugue. The single movement quartet concerto is clean and clear, busy and brusque, dissonantly chattering - letting up only for a solo violin serenade in the central section.

The Symphony has been recorded before: by the dedicatees (Munch and the Boston Symphony) and in 1989 by Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony. There is also a Slatkin disc on RCA. The Munch was on RCA; the Schwarz on Delos.

The notes are variously by the composer and drawn from CRI originals.

Recording quality is good allowing for the passage of the years. I have not heard the Slatkin but so far as the others are concerned this interpretation is thoughtful, enthusiastic and seemingly deeply felt. Strongly recommended. Citadel and Tom Null have done an invaluable job in collecting together this Piston 'Reader'.


Rob Barnett

If you have any difficulty in obtaining the disc you can order it direct from Citadel's website:-


Rob Barnett

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