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Virgil Thomson: Symphony On A Hymn Tune, Symphony No 2


Release Date: 04/08/1995 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 17   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Virgil Thomson
Performer:  Martyn Hill
Conductor:  James Bolle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Monadnock Festival OrchestraBudapest Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 12 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Although these recordings were made well before Virgil Thomson's death in September 1989, in his 93rd year, the effect is of an In Memoriam. A Solemn Music, the richly orchestrated passacaglia with which he commemorated two of his Parisian friends, including the most important, the writer Gertrude Stein, is more than enough to correct glib assumptions that Thomson was capable only of light, jokey music. Even the short Joyful Fugue which Thomson attached to A Solemn Music in the interests of bracing contrast is not unambivalently exuberant. There is more than a touch of minor-key strenuousness to its busy counterpoint, though this effect may be due in part to performances which are sometimes rather stodgy, and a sound lacking the fullness Read more and bloom that would reveal Thomson's skilful orchestration in all its subtlety.

'Bracing contrast' is what the record as a whole provides, with compound interest. Thomson at his most Puckish can be heard in the two symphonies, both relatively early pieces and not without moments of desultory under-composition, though there are strong compensations, not so much in the simple ideas as in the unexpected flights of fancy, like the "suggestion of a distant railway train" at the end of the second movement of the Symphony on a Hymn Tune.

Well nigh 40 years later Thomson composed his third and last opera, Lord Byron, and anyone familiar with Four Saints in Three Acts, his first work for the stage, may initially be disconcerted at the post-impressionist or neo-romantic style of Byron. But the brief settings of Byron's own poetry included here have shapely vocal lines and evocative instrumental support. Only in the fourth does Thomson's lifelong dislike of emotional overemphasis produce a rather bland setting of lines that cry out for something more passionate: "I'd sooner burn in hell till the whole of me's charred! As small and black as your self-satisfied heart". The Love Scene from Byron's Don Juan (for which, maddeningly, Albany have failed to provide the text) is also rather too reserved in tone and temperament, though the orchestral Shipwreck preceding it plays pictorialism for all its considerable worth.

-- Arnold Whittall, Gramophone [4/1990] Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Symphony on a Hymn Tune by Virgil Thomson
Conductor:  James Bolle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Monadnock Festival Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928; France 
Length: 20 Minutes 35 Secs. 
2.
Symphony no 2 by Virgil Thomson
Conductor:  James Bolle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Monadnock Festival Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1931/1941; France 
Length: 16 Minutes 24 Secs. 
3.
Lord Byron: Alas! the love of woman by Virgil Thomson
Performer:  Martyn Hill (Tenor)
Conductor:  James Bolle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Budapest Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961-1968; USA 
Length: 6 Minutes 40 Secs. 
Language: English 
4.
Lord Byron: Shipwreck and Love Scene by Virgil Thomson
Performer:  Martyn Hill (Tenor)
Conductor:  James Bolle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Budapest Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961-1968; USA 
Length: 14 Minutes 51 Secs. 
Language: English 
5.
A Solemn Music by Virgil Thomson
Conductor:  James Bolle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Budapest Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949/1961; USA 
6.
Lord Byron: A wanderer from the British world of fashion by Virgil Thomson
Performer:  Martyn Hill (Tenor)
Conductor:  James Bolle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Budapest Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961-1968; USA 
Language: English 
7.
Lord Byron: Sweet lady by Virgil Thomson
Performer:  Martyn Hill (Tenor)
Conductor:  James Bolle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Budapest Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961-1968; USA 
8.
Lord Byron: I'd sooner burn in hell by Virgil Thomson
Performer:  Martyn Hill (Tenor)
Conductor:  James Bolle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Budapest Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961-1968; USA 
Language: English 
9.
Lord Byron: Fare thee well thus disunited by Virgil Thomson
Performer:  Martyn Hill (Tenor)
Conductor:  James Bolle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Budapest Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961-1968; USA 
Language: English 
10.
A Joyful Fugue by Virgil Thomson
Conductor:  James Bolle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Budapest Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1962; USA 

Sound Samples

Symphony on a Hymn Tune: I. Introduction and Allegro
Symphony on a Hymn Tune: II. Andante cantabile
Symphony on a Hymn Tune: III. Allegretto
Symphony on a Hymn Tune: IV. Alla breve
Symphony No. 2: I. Allegro militaire
Symphony No. 2: II. Andante
Symphony No. 2: III. Allegro
Lord Byron: Act II: Alas! the love of woman!
Lord Byron: Act II: A wanderer from the British world of fashion
Lord Byron: Act II: Sweet lady
Lord Byron: Act III: I'd sooner burn in hell
Lord Byron: Act III: Fare thee well
From Byron's Don Juan: Shipwreck
From Byron's Don Juan: Juan and Haidee
A Solemn Music (version for orchestra)
A Joyful Fugue

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