Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:


Morton GOULD American Salute
John Philip SOUSA March: Hands across the Sea
Samuel BARBER Excursions, Op.20: Un poco allegro
Walter PISTON Piano Quintet: Allegro Vivo
George Templeton STRONG Symphony No 2: Die drei entsetzlichen Gefähten: Tod, Teufel und Irrsinn (excerpt)
Louis Moreau GOTTSCHALK Célébre Tarantelle Op. 67 No.4 (arr. Sidney Lambert)
John CAGE Sonata V
Thomas BEVERIDGE Yizkor Requiem: El Malei Rachamim (excerpt)
Howard HANSON Rhythmic Variations on Two Ancient Hymns (excerpt)
Paul CRESTON Symphony No. 1: II (with humour)
Lalo SCHIFRIN Hommage à Ravel: Finale (excerpt)
Philip GLASS
Violin Concerto: III (excerpt)
Robert Russell BENNETT Sights and Sounds (an Orchestral Entertainment): V. Night Club (Fox trot)
Edward MACDOWELL Hexentantz (Witches' Dance) Op. 17 No.2
Samuel BARBER Cello Concerto, Op.22: Molto allegro appassionato
Charles IVES Variations on "America" (orch. William Schuman)
various performers
recorded, various venues 1991-2000
NAXOS 8.559121 [73:42]
Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS  Amazon recommendations

The disc cover carries the boast, "A comprehensive anthology of music taken from Naxos' American Classics series, The Liberty Trail showcases the dazzling array of musical style embraced by American composers. From Gottschalk to Gould, and from Sousa to Schifrin, this disc encompasses a wealth of creativity and an amazing diversity of musical imagination". So Naxos is making no bones about The Liberty Trail being a trailer for its enterprising and growing American Classics series. As such it is the sort of marketing product one might expect to acquire as a freebie. Reasons for buying it therefore are likely to be, first, to use it as Naxos intends, as a trailer that may introduce unfamiliar music that could lead to the purchase of items from the main series. The booklet handily contains a list of 36 discs with their numbers to encourage this process. Second, to enjoy it as an untaxing wide-ranging collection of miniatures and excerpts. Since Naxos has carefully chosen the items for their seductive appeal, then for many it will work well on both counts.

Although most of the sixteen pieces selected for the disc were composed in the 20th century they are conservative for their time. No Morton Feldman or even Elliot Carter is to be found here although there is one concession in that John Cage is given a brief outing with just over a minute of syncopated prepared piano which even nervous Cage antipathists should find tolerable. It is by far the shortest extract here. The modern minimalist movement is represented not by Steve Reich but by Philip Glass with his Violin Concerto, perpetual, idiomatic string figurations that will sound to some like updated Vivaldi.

The disc opens with an American pop classic, the hugely successful orchestral arrangement by Morton Gould of Johnny Comes Marching Home, quintessential American music performed with suitable panache, bizarrely, by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine - a typical Naxos touch. A companion piece, concluding the disc, is Charles Ives' treatment of the patriotic song America, the jingoistic connotations of which will be lost on most of the rest of the world who will recognise it as God Save the Queen. Originally an organ work, this orchestral arrangement by William Schuman is given, ironically, a British rendering by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

In between there is a range of music to suit most tastes, none having extraneous American allusions as in the Gould and Ives pieces although we do get a Sousa march, Hands Across the Sea, complete with piccolo obbligato. Otherwise, even stylistically there is little to identify as American apart from two wonderful piano pieces. One of Samuel Barber's Excursions has a European surface underpinned by a boogie bass and the 19th century pianist/composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk is represented by what sounds like a scintillating salon number (actually an arrangement for two pianos of a piano/orchestra work) with an oompah left hand that anticipates ragtime. Liszt meets Scott Joplin may seem an unimaginable concept - until you hear the piece.

There is good representation of what I can only describe as very late romantic. An excerpt from Thomas Beveridge's Requiem deploys lush choral resources and a gently undulating excerpt from Howard Hanson's Rhythmic Variations on Two Ancient Hymns will appeal to those many fans of Gorecki's Third Symphony.

Compositional rigour is not the point of this disc. The nearest we get is the splendid Allegro Vivo from Walter Piston's Piano Quintet, a reminder of what a huge influence Stravinsky has been on many leading American composers.

The booklet accompanying the disc consists of an introduction to the American Classics series in the guise of a potted history of American music. Much is made of the influence of Copland and Gershwin who are both in the main series (Gershwin gets three discs to himself) yet neither feature on The Liberty Trail. Naxos presumably thinks they are too well known to need trailing.

All these excerpts are excellently performed with recording quality to match.

As a trailer the disc is quite a clever product but many will find it enjoyable in its own right . It worked both ways for me.

John Leeman

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