Thomson / Helps: Symphonies
Liner Notes   Cat. No. NWCRL411     Release Date: 2017-08-15
New Hampshire Symphony Orchestra; James Bolle, conductor; Columbia Symphony Orchestra; Zoltan Rozsnyai, conductor

Virgil Thomson's Third Symphony is an orchestral version of his String Quartet No. 2, composed in 1932, orchestrated in 1972. It is scored for 2 flutes (1 piccolo), 2 oboes (1 English horn), 2 clarinets (1 bass), 2 bassoons; 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba; timpani (5), percussion (gong, tamtam, cymbals, bass drum, snare drum, field drum, tambourine, glockenspiel), harp, and strings.

That Virgil Thomson's Third Symphony presents no difficulty to the casual listener is perhaps its greatest difficulty. For beneath its bland textures and fluent rhythm, expressed through them, indeed, lies a radical modernism of thought. This is betrayed through a main theme built wholly of stacked-up thirds ascending and descending through a two-octave range and incorporating both a rhythmic displacement and a major-minor contradiction. It is clearly a twentieth-century theme. Also characteristic of our time is the practice of building sizeable structures out of abstract material, in this case out of scales and broken arpeggios.

Robert Helps' Symphony No. 1 received the Walter W. Naumburg Foundation Award responsible for the original Columbia recording. He writes:

“The first movement is a rather explosive short sonata-form movement which, after its highest climax, calms down quickly and leads without pause into the slow second movement. This pervasively somber movement is perhaps the most complex of the Symphony. It also is the most tonally oriented, rather unabashedly making its entrance and exit in what certainly sounds to me like B-flat minor. It is a mirror-like movement, with four connected sections leading to a climax and three leading from it. Sections 5, 6 and 7 are abridged versions of sections 1, 2 and 4, but in reverse order — i.e., 1=7, 2-6, 4=5. (Section 3, not reappearing in the declining half of the movement, is a short restatement of the quiet opening theme, but this time with considerably enlarged forces and in forte.) An ostinato-like figure appears for the first time in the horns just before the climax of the movement; at the climax it appears in the trumpets. This figure accompanies much of the rest of the movement, although at no point does it become the principal theme.

“The last movement is generally fast and energetic, vacillating between 6/8 and 3/4, with the often bizarrely dance-like 3/4 winning out in the end. It is a fairly strict sonata-form movement, with two modifications: one, the development section is replaced with a theme- and-variation section — this section, quite different in mood, being perhaps the most "serious" part of the movement and containing the major climax of the Symphony; and two, in the recapitulation the group of second themes appears before the group of first themes, although this modification is atoned for by ending the movement with a coda built on one of the second themes.”




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Various Artists

Thomson / Helps: Symphonies

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Track Listing

Symphony No. 3: I. Allegro moderato
Virgil Thomson
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Symphony No. 3: II. Tempo di valzer
Virgil Thomson
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Symphony No. 3: III. Adagio sostenuto
Virgil Thomson
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Symphony No. 3: IV. Allegretto
Virgil Thomson
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Symphony No. 1: I. Energico e marcato
Robert Helps
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Symphony No. 1: II. Adagio
Robert Helps
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Symphony No. 1: III. Allegro con moto
Robert Helps
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