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Paul CRESTON (1906-1985)
Toccata Op. 68 (1957) [13:42]
Symphony No. 5 Op. 64 (1955) [25:34]
Out of the Cradle Op. 5 (1932) [10:32]
Partita Op. 12 (1935) [16:35]
Invocation and Dance Op. 58 (1953) [13:17]
Scott Goff (flute)
Ilkka Talvi (violin)
Seattle Symphony Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz
Rec. Seattle Center Opera House, 1991-1992
NAXOS 8.559153 [79:42]


This disc assembled from two Delos discs is packed tight. It could hardly be tighter. There are two Delos CDs’ worth here (DE3127 and DE3114). It is wonderful that these recordings have been given a new lease of life even if those who purchased the original discs at full price (me included) might be grinding their teeth at the Naxos bargain price). Only one work had to be left out and that was the Choreographic Suite. There is some logic in the choice for exclusion as the orchestra in that case was the New York Chamber Symphony). This way you get a disc in which the only orchestral representation is from the Seattle Symphony. If you want the Choreographic Suite you will have to track down a copy of Delos DE 3127 - could be easier said than done. Then again perhaps Naxos will include it in a future disc in their world-beating American Classics series.

Creston was one of the Italian romantics in American music alongside Giannini, Flagello and Menotti. He had no sympathy with the creations of Webern, Berg or Schoenberg still less with the music of his countrymen Carter (excepting some works of the 1940s). Wuorinen, Davidovsky or Sessions.

His Toccata is exuberant speaking of high optimism and high sierras. The music links in spirit with Ibert’s Bacchanale and explosively joyous works of ….. The strings of the Seattle Symphony sound undernourished in this case but nothing unduly untoward. The sound sheeny and silky in the Fifth Symphony though hardly opulent. The French Horn solo at 4.45 (tr. 2) is lovingly done although it could have been recorded with greater intimacy. The music is triumphantly lyrical and the tenderness of the closing measures of that movement is extremely affecting. The pounding rhythmic crest at 4.23 in the middle movement looks back to Howard Hanson. Creston’s generosity of spirit and the velocity of music contrasted with its capacity to sing its lyrical heart out burns brightly still in this work. This may not be as fine a work as the Second and Third Symphonies but its glories are not to be missed. A shame about the too short breathing space between the end of the Fifth Symphony and the start of the Walt Whitman tone poem Out of the Cradle. Out of the Cradle is based on the same poem of love and loss and the sea as inspired Delius to write his Sea Drift. Creston’s adopts a quite different approach. The music is illustrative of the sea (those crashing impacts at 7.10 are typical of Nystroem’s Sinfonia del Mare) and touches on the emotions without probing as deeply as Delius. Incidentally there is also an early tone poem of Creston’s which carries the title Walt Whitman. David Amos recorded it with the Cracow Phil on Koch 3-7036-2HH and before that there was Nicola Rescigno’s LP recording on RCA LM2426. The five movement Partita with prominent parts for solo violin and flute with titles such as Sarabande and Tarantella takes a leaf or two out of Dumbarton Oaks. In the Sarabande and the Air Creston plumbs depths of emotion beyond those encompassed by Stravinsky. I thought occasionally of Moeran’s 1950 vintage Serenade (the full version) as a parallel work. The fast movements are rife with whip-crack energy and a mite dry but those two slow movements are a delight. The finale track is a bipartite structure typical of Creston: the Invocation and Dance. The work was written between the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies. Not for the first time in Creston’s music there are some ripe Stravinskian echoes in fact the Invocation sometimes comes across as a tribute to the Rite of Spring. But the strong rhythmic signature that so characterises Creston’s music is always contrasted with the unleashing of an airy, ecstatic and exuberant lyricism also to be heard at 10.49 a little like the ineffably relaxing melody that emerges like a blessing out of the storm in the first movement of Vaughan Williams Fourth Symphony. I loved the nervy edge-of-seat tension at 6.27 and the wonderful tuba solo at 6.40 - fully worthy of Bax or RVW.

This disc very successfully joins a much earlier and again highly recommendable release (Naxos American Classics 8.559034) in which Creston’s first three symphonies are played by National Symphony Orchestra of the Ukraine conducted by Theodore Kuchar.

Congratulations on the use of Steven Lowe’s notes. They cover all the bases and do so extremely well.

If you would like to discover more about Creston’s lost generation then do seek out Walter Simmons’ newly published book: Voices in the Wilderness Scarecrow Press, 0-8108-4884-8 in which he reassesses the musical legacy of Ernest Bloch, Howard Hanson, Vittorio Giannini, Paul Creston, Samuel Barber, and Nicolas Flagello.

This is a cracking disc. It combines the composer’s exuberant high optimism with triumphantly lyrical tenderness. Creston’s generosity of spirit sings its lyrical heart out.

Rob Barnett

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