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CD Review

John Knowles Paine

Orchestral Works, Volume 2

  • Symphony #2 in A Major "In the Spring", Op. 34
  • Oedipus Tyrannus, Op. 35 (Prelude)
  • Poseidon and Amphitrite: An Ocean Fantasy, Op. 44
Ulster Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
Naxos American Classics 8.559748
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Also available Volume One of the Orchestral Works is Naxos 8.559747:
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There are all kinds of wonderful composers and works within the world of Americana waiting to be discovered, but as we all know, not all of it has to break new and exciting ground. The output of John Knowles Paine is not especially innovative, but it will please anyone who enjoys late 19th-Century Romanticism. Although not particularly distinctive in any way, the music isn't bad music, and it's not a lousy copycat job, either. The Ulster Orchestra – which also set down Volume One of this two-disc series – proves fully able to tackle these beautiful scores.

The Symphony is a nearly 50-minute creation with (what else?) nature-themed subtitles and supposedly evocative themes. I can't imagine anyone seeing the first movement as the "Awakening of Nature", but there are some rather rustic and outdoorsy type themes. Perhaps Knowles doesn't sustain the tension of the work throughout, but then again, plenty of composers have done fan worse with far longer material. There is some nice writing for the brass, horns especially, and the woodwinds have lots to do. The strings have less than imaginative material to work with, but the overall feeling is a solid homage to the European tradition. And overall, the impression is very pretty indeed, which explains why the work was so well-received after being unveiled in New York.

Still, one has to question just how well the music holds up today. Typical of many composers working during his era, the titles are all grandiose without remotely living up to the implied drama. Furthermore, nothing on this disc really lingers in the mind, nor does it "sound" especially American if you are going off of works by Ives or Copland. If you like this kind of thing, I daresay none of my complaints matter, but those looking for depth or dramatics should probably look elsewhere. The sound is perfectly fine.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman

Trumpet