Notes and Editorial Reviews
Virginia-born pianist, composer and ethnomusicologist John Powell received most of his primary music training at home, with his sister as his first piano teacher. He subsequently attended the University of Virginia and then traveled to Vienna where he studied piano and composition. He debuted as pianist in Berlin in 1907, and toured Europe extensively before World War I, returning to the United States after the War broke out. He settled in Richmond, performing extensively around the country, especially his own compositions, and eventually moved to an estate near Charlottesville. He was also an amateur astronomer, awarded honorary membership in the Societe Astronomique de France for the discovery of a comet. Powell was a respected composer,
his major compositions being a violin concerto, a piano concerto, an orchestral suite, two string quartets, two violin sonatas, two collections of folk-song settings for voice and piano, four piano sonatas, three piano suites, the Rhapsodie Negre for piano and orchestra, and the Symphony in A major. Powell's most important work was probably his methodical collection of rural songs of the South. He finished his Symphony in A major in 1945, but revised it extensively in 1951 and subtitled it Virginia Symphony (actually originally Symphony on Virginian Folk Themes and in the Folk Modes). It is the result of Powell's decades of searching out old melodies still roaming the Virginia countryside - songs that were old when the first Queen Elizabeth was young. Instead of the usual major minor scales we are accustomed to, he based his music on the medieval modes of the old songs. Unfortunately, Powell's extensive collection remains unpublished so that it is almost impossible to identify the sources for the individual melodies within the Symphony. The general style of the work is grandiose, employing the late Romantic Germanic orchestration in which Powell was trained.
R E V I E W S:
"John Powell (1882-1963) composed his Virginia Symphony between 1941-51, and purely in terms of harmonic style it might be taken for a somewhat crude example of the work of the English pastoral school--E.J. Moeran comes most readily to mind...it would be churlish to deny the music its simple charms and joie de vivre. Certainly it's not dull or uneventful, and JoAnn Falletta, that very reliable champion of unfamiliar repertoire, gets typically fine results from the Virginia Symphony, a group she has directed since 1991.
Carmen Dragon's equally pleasant arrangement of Shenandoah completes this appealing package, and only serves to emphasize Powell's role as "arranger" rather then "composer"--and really there's nothing wrong with that. Toss in excellent sonicsand you will find plenty to enjoy. It may fit Peter Warlock's description of Vaughan Williams' Pastoral Symphony as sounding "like a cow looking over a barn gate"; but as long as the view from the farmyard is lovely, who cares?" -- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
"...a parade of pleasing folk tunes with many sparkling lively dances...very well played by the orchestra under Falletta's dynamic direction." (Classicalcdreview.com)
Works on This Recording
Shenandoah by Traditional
Notes: Arranged: Carmen Dragon
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