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Friday, May 8, 2015

John Knowles Paine, Symphony No. 2 "In the Spring," Ulster Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta

The advent of a world-class group of classical composers in the USA did not come about until relatively late. The group known as the "Boston Six"--Arthur Foote, Amy Beach, George Chadwick, Edward MacDowell, Horatio Parker (who taught Charles Ives) and John Knowles Paine, all more or less came into their own in the final years of the 19th century. All showed originality and compositional acuity, if mostly in the later romantic style. I turn today to the latter composer, with a work I have not previously experienced, John Knowles Paine (1839-1906) and his Symphony No. 2 "In the Spring" (Naxos 8.559748) in a new recording with JoAnn Falletta and the Ulster Symphony.

The 1879 symphony is very solid fare within a general romantic framework. It shows the influences of Brahms and Mendelssohn but then also has a thematic pristineness not overtly derivative.

We are also treated to two shorter bonus works: the Prelude to "Oedipus Tyrannus" (1880-81) and "Poseidon and Amphitrite, An Ocean Fantasy" from around 1888.

Ms. Falletta once again shows an excellent feel for this kind of music and the Ulster Orchestra responds accordingly. If Paine does not sound like the whirlwind father of American classical music, he set the stage, raised the expectations high for the next generation, Ives, Ruggles, Copland, Gershwin and the others who followed and opened the curtain to a truly local set of styles, rooted in both nationalism and modernism in unique ways.

But nonetheless Paine's music is not unattractive. The symphony was a major work of its time in the USA. The "Poseidon" Fantasy strays further afield for some music certainly of its time but worthwhile to hear now.

Falletta gives us performances worthy of Paine's music. It is a very pleasant experience hearing it all. If it sets the stage for things to come it also has charm that makes the experience of it rewarding and of course historically illuminating. A good thing for students of the rise of modernism and an American school, surely.

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