John Knowles Paine (1839–1906) was a pioneer—the first university Professor of Music in America (at Harvard), the first American composer to have a symphonic work published in full score. Yet there is nothing primitive about this pioneer. If anything, his music is polished and conscientious to a fault, displaying an apparently uncritical adherence to European models of the kind that would eventually drive Charles Ives and other radicals to revolt.
Conscientious this symphony of 1879 may be but it is efficiently organized and has attractive ideas, even if their elaboration often fails to rise above the commonplace. The title invokes Schumann, and Paine (who studied in Berlin) evidently knew that master's music. The SchumannRead more influence is most apparent early in the finale, but the style of the work as a whole has more in common with the younger Dvorak. There's a freshness, but also a decorousness, even in livelier passages, that has considerable appeal, provided unrealistic comparisons with the giants of musical romanticism are avoided.
The symphony's main fault, which it shares with so much nineteenth-century orchestral music (often by organist-composers) is a reluctance to let daylight and fresh air into the texture. Yet the music skilfully avoids purely rhythmic stagnation. The first movement makes effective use of dancing patterns which briefly evoke Beethoven's Seventh Symphony (in the same key). The Scherzo is a fast waltz with a pleasantly pastoral Trio, while the Adagio's meditative main idea is more effectively handled than the attempts at darker moods in the middle of the movement. The finale serves its purpose well, with a broad second theme that comes round once too often, but which has an appealingly natural expressiveness.
Zubin Mehta is too inclined to give this theme a portentous expansiveness, and the whole performance might have benefited from a lighter touch. But Paine's heavy orchestration must take some of the blame for this element of ponderousness and there is a good deal of distinguished playing from the NYPO—notably the cellos and horns. The recording itself is not particularly clear in definition, but this is nevertheless a rewarding—even a pioneering—issue.'