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Chadwick: Adonais, Cleopatra, Pastoral Prelude, Sinfonietta / Lockhart

Chadwick / Bbc Concert Orchestra / Lockhart
Release Date: 09/12/2012 
Label:  Dutton Laboratories/Vocalion   Catalog #: 7293   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  George W. Chadwick
Conductor:  Keith Lockhart
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Concert Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CHADWICK Adonais: Elegiac Overture. Cleopatra: Symphonic Poem. A Pastoral Prelude. Sinfonietta in D Keith Lockhart, cond; BBC Concert O DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7293 (68:46)

Chadwick’s orchestral music has been promoted over the years by a number of recordings, the earliest in the LP era being Karl Krueger’s Read more style="font-style:italic">Sinfonietta , on SPAMH 104 in 1959. (It’s a fairly dull performance, but Krueger could have claimed one point in his favor over all other musicians who subsequently recorded the Bostonian’s works: he was Chadwick’s composition student at the New England Conservatory in 1914.) Conductors such as Hanson, Järvi, Kunzel, Serebrier, Leppard, Mester, Schermerhorn, and Kuchar have praised and recorded the composer’s works sporadically since, though often focusing on the same handful of pieces. It’s a pleasure, then, to have a new Chadwick album appear that includes three recording premieres—four, if you set aside Krueger’s ineffective Sinfonietta.

The disc spans a 14-year-period during which the composer’s music grew structurally more ambitious and complex, and open to new foreign developments. A Pastoral Prelude of 1890 displays a mastery of clear but scintillating orchestral texture that may reflect a knowledge of Dvo?ák’s scores a couple of years before he arrived in the United States, and the two became well acquainted. (Chadwick received an award for one of his symphonies from the National Conservatory—which evolved years later into Juilliard—while Dvo?ák was at its helm.) It is full of confident energy, and not atypically for early Chadwick, with enough attractive ideas to easily hold attention over its nearly 13 minute timespan. If it lacks any strong element of internal contrast, the harmonic movement is sure, and especially inspired in the final pages.

Adonais of 1899 took emotions inspired by the death of the composer’s good friend, Boston music teacher Frank Fay Marshall, and put them through the prism of the Bostonian gentry’s appreciation for Attic Greek culture. Shelley’s “Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats” is a characteristic lament that ends uncharacteristically in a pantheistic celebration of transfigured nature. Chadwick, who already had plenty of experience with tone poems by then, concentrated on its earlier, despairing pages. If the first theme following the introduction sounds as though it could have been composed for Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony , its subsequent treatment is both ingenious and more modern; while the lengthy, languorous second theme is one of the composer’s more inspired creations; and the third, a funeral march, very much in the Arthurian Heroes of Old mode he did so well. The development and transformation of this material is clever, marked by a seamless contrast on all musical and expressive levels. It’s a real find, and could hold its head up proudly in any concert that features Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Dvo?ák, and other late 19th-century masters.

The liner notes suggest that Cleopatra was written in direct response to Richard Strauss’s 1904 tour of the Northeastern states, as its length—over 21 minutes, on this album—pushes the limits of Chadwick’s single-movement tone poem structure. Since nothing in the piece suggests any interest in Strauss, however, I have to wonder if his model wasn’t to be found instead in Liszt’s longer tone poems, to which it does bear some stylistic and structural similarities. The breadth of Chadwick’s harmonic palette is greater than before, and his handling of a larger orchestra than usual, masterful. However, for all the subtlety of its intersectional links, and the beauty of its material associated with its eponymous heroine, I find Cleopatra hobbled by a surprisingly bland military march for Marc Antony, and an overlong development that simply can’t sustain its material.

Better is the four movement Sinfonietta , composed in 1904 for the New England Conservatory student orchestra Chadwick had formed several years earlier. The writing is understandably simpler, given the varied technical levels of his performers, and the desire to make both good music and foster a solid learning experience. There’s no loss of quality, though. I’m particularly taken by the Allegretto canzonetta—starting with deliberately archaic three part contrapuntal writing along the lines of Parry’s Lady Radnor’s Suite , before moving into perhaps the best of Chadwick’s Arthurian Heroes of Old marches. Interestingly, bridge material from the movement reappears in the same key to furnish the only tragic touch in the work’s restless but ebullient finale.

Keith Lockhart secures persuasive performances from the BBC Concert Orchestra throughout this release. Barring a couple of passing intonational issues in Adonais and A Pastoral Prelude , the playing is technically first-rate—listen to the sheen on those upper strings in Adonais , and the brass that never bobbles—while the solo work (like Rimsky-Korsakov, Chadwick enjoyed allowing his musicians to shine) is especially good. Textures are transparent, and Dutton obtains a blended sound without the need for any reverberant haze.

Highly recommended, then. Would it be too much to hope for a Chadwick series from Lockhart and these musicians?

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Elegiac Overture "Adonais" by George W. Chadwick
Conductor:  Keith Lockhart
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Concert Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1899 
Cleopatra by George W. Chadwick
Conductor:  Keith Lockhart
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Concert Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1904 
A Pastoral Prelude by George W. Chadwick
Conductor:  Keith Lockhart
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Concert Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1890 
Sinfonietta in D major by George W. Chadwick
Conductor:  Keith Lockhart
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Concert Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1904 

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