Luening, Antheil & Howe: Orchestral Works
Liner Notes   Cat. No. NWCRL103     Release Date: 2010-03-01

Nearly three decades separate the two Otto Luening works programmed herewith. The Symphonic Fantasia No. 1 was sketched in 1922, shortly after the composer’s return from five years of European study. The score is monothematic. The opening five measures present all of the material, which is thenceforth transfigured continuously, with successive climaxes involving ever more intensity of orchestration. The closing section is signaled by a dance-like tune in the oboe that subsequently metamorphoses into a broad lyric statement by the entire orchestra. A review of the initial material brings the work to an end.

Nowadays known only as an entity, Kentucky Rondo originally was the finale of Luening’s 1951 Louisville Concerto. The composer himself conducted the first performance in that city. Three principal themes are disclosed: the piano submits a gay nineties ditty, an expansive diatonic melody ensues; then the massed brass blare out a festive song that had emerged earlier in brooding guise. A chromatic fourth subject is brought in now and then throughout. Each solo instrument and section has its turn. At the peroration all join in playing the several themes simultaneously.

Twenty-four days after Otto Luening’s birth, a cosmic particle named George Antheil descended on this unprepared planet at Trenton, New Jersey. This was the self-styled “bad boy of music” who would soon gain fame for his Ballet mécanique —and why not, since its performance demanded eight pianos, an airplane propeller, and sirens among sundry other unorthodox instruments?

But that was in 1925. Two decades later, as he confessed in a charming autobiography, Antheil had come to writing strongly contrapuntal music “replete with canons, fugues, inversions, calculated and recalculated developments.” The avant-garde, any one of whom was less advanced then than Antheil had been a generation before, did not take kindly to this belated avowal of conservatism. At best, they were inclined to view it as a phase or a passing fancy. It has continued, however, to this day.

The Serenade No. 1 for string orchestra was one of its first fine fruits. Structurally traditional, the Serenade is in three fluently graceful  and texturally transparent movements. The opening Allegro, despite a tricky three-within-four figure, is immediately appealing for its vaguely rustic humor. The Andante molto is notable for an affecting concertante exchange among the solo violin, viola, and cello. The final Vivo, in contrast, is a sort of stylized furioso, infectious alike in its rhythms and its surfeit of melody.

Mary Howe is the senior composer of this distinguished group. She was born in Richmond on the fourth of April in 1882, but began her creative career only when her children were grown and off to college. On the occasion of an all-Howe concert at Town Hall in 1953, John Briggs wrote in the New York Times that "Mrs. Howe is a traditionalist who pays her respects to the past without, at the same time, being ignorant of what is going on today. Dissonances of the more hair-raising sort are used sparingly, and the musical structure has clarity and sound design throughout.”

The miniature tone poems Sand and Stars proceed programmatically from the connotations of their respective titles: Sand, according to the composer, is an imaginative piece on the substance itself — its consistency, grains, bulk, grittiness, and its potential scattering quality; more or less what it appears to be when sifting through your fingers on the shore;” Stars was “inspired by the gradually overwhelming effect of the dome of a starry night — its peace, beauty, and space. The sonorous ensemble of the strings opens the work with the suggestion of the spreading immensity of the starry vault. As the music progresses one’s imagination is carried into the contemplation of the awesome depths of space and the sense of mystery with which man compares his insignificance to infinity."

[Adapted from original LP liner notes by James Lyons]

This title, originally issued on the CRI label, is now available as a burn-on-demand CD (CD-R) or download in MP3/320, FLAC or WAV formats. CD-Rs come in a protective sleeve; no print booklet or jewel case included. Full liner notes are accessible via the link above.

The Vienna Orchestra

Luening, Antheil & Howe: Orchestral Works

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Track Listing

Symphonic Fantasia
Otto Luening
Buy
Kentucky Rondo
Otto Luening
Buy
Serenade No. 1 for Strings: I. Allegro
George Antheil
Buy
Serenade No. 1 for Strings: II. Andante molto
George Antheil
Buy
Serenade No. 1 for Strings: III. Vivo
George Antheil
Buy
Stars
Mary Howe
Buy
Sand
Mary Howe
Buy