A Lark Ascending

Lesser known symphonies

74 posts in this topic

When it comes to classical music I have a particular liking for symphonies - all that orchestral colour yet without any voice getting too dominant (usually!).

I also love the byways of the genre, often in preference to the highways.

So, what less familiar symphonies would you recommend? Outside the Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Mahler, Shostakovitch etc that dominate the release schedules.

Not an attempt to claim them as better or even underrated...just symphonies that have a particular resonance with you.

For me:

Symphony in G minor - EJ Moeran

Moeran (1894-1950) was a British composer with a background partly in Norfolk, partly in Ireland. His Symphony was completed in 1937.

This is music in the vein of Vaughan Williams, Walton and Sibelius. A wonderful first movement with a singing first subject and then one of those melodies in the second subject that just melts you (and will have expatriate Brits on the first plane home!). The second movement is a brooding, atmospheric piece of Sibeliana, sounding like fog swirling around a bleak landscape. A nice, crisp scherzo follows. The finale is one of those unresolved pieces that seemed to be prevelant in the 30s.

I first heard this on a Boult recording for Lyrita in the late 70s and now use the Chandos recording by Vernon Handley and the Ulster Orchestra. A bit boomy like many Chandos recordings but nice nonetheless. There is, however, a relatively recent Naxos recording that got excellent reviews. At Naxos prices worth an experiment.

B00006GO46.02.MZZZZZZZ.jpg

Details and sound clips here:

http://www.naxos.com/naxos/naxos_marco_polo.htm

What are your out-of-the-way favourites?

Edited by Bev Stapleton

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What about the Bax symphonies, Bev? They seem to be controversial, though I don't know why. Chandos have just released a "Complete" box set by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under Vernon Handley, which is one of Gramophone's "Editor's Choices" for December 2003. The review is rather good.

Edited by J.A.W.

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Now it's funny you should mention Bax, Hans.

I was listening to a radio programme yesterday where David Lloyd-Jones was being interviewed about his just completed Bax cycle for Naxos. I have a few Bax discs but only one Symphony - the Fourth - which came out on Chandos in the very early days of CD. He's never been a favourite but that interview yesterday sparked my interest - the 2nd and 6th sound especially intriguing. Which in turn had me playing a Bax disc of tone poems, which in turn led me to play the Moeran which led to this thread!

I think I'm going to try a couple of the Naxos Bax discs next week.

If interested you can hear the interview above here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/classical/cdreview.shtml

Click on 'Listen to the latest programme' and then click forward 2.15 hrs! A bit cumbersome but worth the listen.

Bax was an intriguing character - he had some peripheral involvement with Irish Nationalism at the time of the 1916 Easter Rising. And he once got so infatuated with a dancer he followed her to Russia!

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Naxos seems to have recently acquired the distribution rights to some of Delos Records catalog. Delos put out a number of recordings of symphonies and whatnot by American composers, usually performed by the Seattle Symphony conducted by Gerard Schwarz. So for a small amount of money you can get a large amount of music - which works great if you're just sampling.

David Diamond's symphonies (any of them) are worth hearing. As well as his Violin Concerto and Kaddish for Cello and Orchestra (kind of defeating the "voice getting too dominant" concept). Post-Romantic modern music, generally written in the 1940's - 60's, and not harsh on sensitive ears. A few of these works are available on Naxos.

Alan Hovhaness is greatly represented on a variety of labels. Although American, he incorporated many different elements reflecting his Armenian heritage and Asian studies into his music. A lot of his works are based on mountains and other natural entities and have a kind of beauty-of-nature feel to them. His symphonies (all 60 or so), concertos, Prelude and Quadruple Fugue, and And God Created Great Whales for orchestra and humpback whales are my favorite examples of his work. Quoting composer Bernard Rogers, "Hovhaness comes from a small planet where it is always Christmas and where there are no bad sounds."

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I have a couple of the Delos Piston discs. I'd really like to see his Symphonies out there in full alongside Harris and Schumann. With Naxos its looking possible.

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Yeah, Naxos has already released Piston's 2nd, 4th, and 6th Symphonies (probably from the Delos recordings). I can recommend Piston's Chamber Works and Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 also on Naxos. And while not orchestral, I've really been enjoying Naxos' recording of the piano trios of Lalo Schifrin, Gunther Schuller, and Gerald Mark Shapiro. Probably due to the walking bassline in the Schuller piece.

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More symphonists to explore: Balakirev, Borodin, Lutoslawski, Martinu, Nielsen, Roussel, Simpson, Suk and Tippett.

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Another one I'm very fond of. Franz Schmidt's No. 4. Any lover of Mahler or the point when Schoenberg and Berg still had their feet largely in tonality will love this. A glorious piece of curdled late-Romanticism.

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I've had a fondness for the synphonies of Carl Nielsen for many years. In particular the 4th, composed during WW I, is a very moving statement, although very despairing.

The only Nielsen symphony that doesn't hold up very well is the 6th (1930), which is a bitter attack on modernism by an old man whose time has passed.

Edited by Brownian Motion

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The only Nielsen symphony that doesn't hold up very well is the 6th (1930), which is a bitter attack on modernism by an old man whose time has passed.

Debateable concept there...'whose time had passed'.

The mandarins at the BBC wrote off a vast amount of music as being irrelevant to the the times in the 50s and 60s. People like Bax, Arnold, Alwyn and Rubbra found it hard to get a commission or a hearing because they wrote tonal music and didn't subscribe to the serial orthodoxy of the time. All have been rehabilitated in the last 20 years!

I love the Nielsen Symphonies, especially number 3. In a way I consider them (along with Martinu) as part of the general repetoire rather than a by-way. Arthur Honegger's symphonies are also worth looking out for, another marginalised figure who seems to get performed more regularly in these less polarised musical times.

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Arthur Honegger's symphonies are also worth looking out for, another marginalised figure who seems to get performed more regularly in these less polarised musical times.

Sorry I forgot to mention Honegger - symphonies 2, 3 and 5 get regular "spins" at the house of nessa.

I completely disagree with BM's take on Nielsen 6 and I enjoy it a bunch.

Roussel 3 is playing right now.

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Nielsen's 5th Symphony is a very powerful and dynamic work. Lotsa percussion in the first movement (I think it's the first). His concertos are good too.

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Samuel Barber wrote a couple of symphonies worth hearing--in fact all of Barber's orchestral music is worth hearing, especially the Overture to A School for Scandal. My favorite Nielsen is "The Helios Overture".

Edited by Brownian Motion

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Two symphonies that may not be well known over the pond (they're not that well known here) are Malcolm Arnolds 2nd and 5th. Big hearted music with glorious tunes. The other symphonies are also marvellous - there's a very good Naxos box costing sixpence!

I am, of course, assuming that Vaughan Williams, Walton and Elgar are included in the symphonic mainstream! If you don't know VW 3,5 or 6 , the two Elgars or Walton 1 rectify immediately.

Vaughan Williams 5 is my desert island disc...everything I'd like England to be!

Anyone with even the slightest interest in British classical music will find this a goldmine:

http://www.musicweb.uk.net/british.htm

Edited by Bev Stapleton

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Another defender of Nielsen 6 here.

Look into the symphonies of Vagn Holmboe, recorded on Bis. I'm partial to 8, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 2, in about that order.

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Alan Hovhaness is greatly represented on a variety of labels. Although American, he incorporated many different elements reflecting his Armenian heritage and Asian studies into his music. A lot of his works are based on mountains and other natural entities and have a kind of beauty-of-nature feel to them. His symphonies (all 60 or so), concertos, Prelude and Quadruple Fugue, and And God Created Great Whales for orchestra and humpback whales are my favorite examples of his work. Quoting composer Bernard Rogers, "Hovhaness comes from a small planet where it is always Christmas and where there are no bad sounds."

I think I could recomend anything by Hovaness. I love his work.

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The late Lou Harrison, if he hasn't been mentioned (I don't think he has). Nice guy too.

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I forgot about Eduard Tubin (No. 2, No. 8). And Robert Simpson (5, 6, 7, 9).

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I forgot about Eduard Tubin (No. 2, No. 8).

A strong second for Tubin. I haven't spent enough time with his symphonies (not enough to feel like I really know them yet), but I always am glad when I think to put them on.

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Yeah, Tubin - that's nice on a lazy summer day if the water is calm.

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Well, I guess he might not be lesser known your side of the water, but here he sure is: Charles Ives.

I cannot remember having ever seen any orchestra perform any Ives symphony here...

On the other hand, Honegger (while not being played either) is quite well-known here, being from Switzerland.

ubu

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Well, I guess he might not be lesser known your side of the water, but here he sure is: Charles Ives.

I cannot remember having ever seen any orchestra perform any Ives symphony here...

I've never heard an Ives symphony performed here in the U.S. either (at least not anytime in the last 10 years, in either Kansas City or St. Louis.)

A couple times, however, I have heard Ives' first orchestral set (as he liked to call them), better known as "Three Places in New England". The second movement of "Three Places..." is perhaps one of the best known 'tunes' of Ives - also known as "Country Band March". (It's the one with two marching-band tunes 'on top' of each other.)

NAXOS has recently released new recordings of Ives #1, #2, and #3 (with a #4 likely on the way). I think all are from new 'critical editions' of the scores, with a number of errors corrected for the first time (supposedly). I have #1 and #2, and like them as much as any recording I've heard of them. (And the Naxos recording of #1 has the added bonus of being paired with the world-premier recording of a long-lost Ives piano concerto!!! Get it!! :tup )

Edited by Rooster_Ties

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NAXOS has recently released new recordings of Ives #1, #2, and #3 (with a #4 likely on the way). I think all are from new 'critical editions' of the scores, with a number of errors corrected for the first time (supposedly). I have #1 and #2, and like them as much as any recording I've heard of them. (And the Naxos recording of #1 has the added bonus of being paired with the world-premier recording of a long-lost Ives piano concerto!!! Get it!! :tup )

Thanks for this tip, Rooster! I'll look for it!

ubu

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The 'Colour Symphony' of Arthur Bliss is another beautiful early 20thC English piece.

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The SONY Ives Symphonies by Michael Tilson Thomas was also done using the new critical edition, I can recommend it. But that piano concerto is one to get!

For Schumann fans I'd recommend Norbert Burgmueller.

For Beethoven fans I'd recommend Jean-Baptiste Mehul.

For Mahler fans I'd recommend Hans Rott.

Niels Gade.

Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Bohuslav Martinu.

Darius Milhaud - he stopped after # 10 but could have done more ...

Edited by mikeweil

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