Music doing pirouettes in your head Mar 04 by Bill Dodd in Music Reviews

There’s a myth that only French conductors and orchestras should perform French music, or only conductors and orchestras from the UK should be doing British music, and so on.

I don’t believe it.

Carlos Kalmar and the Oregon Symphony are extraordinarily fine with their “This England” set:


Ralph Vaughn Williams (1872-1958) had been working on and off for many years on his operatic version of Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. When it seemed that the opera would probably never be completed, he reworked some of the music into his Symphony no.5 (1943). The Fifth is my favorite VW symphony, and this performance rivals the one I like best– from Sir John Barbirolli.

Also in this set is a very atmospheric performance of Benjamin Britten’s Four Sea Interludes and “Passacaglia from his Opera, Peter Grimes. Kalmar and his Oregon band absolutely nail this suite.

Just released is another symphony with music reworked from an opera, and one from a ballet:


I really like this one! The young American conductor James Gaffigan gets amazing performances of Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony nos. 3 and 4 from the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. Prokofiev adapted parts of his unperformed opera The Fiery Angel to make his Symphony no. 3 in 1928. And a year later he drew on his ballet The Prodigal Son for his Symphony no. 4. If you love Prokofiev’s ballets, Romeo and Juliet, and Cinderella, you will find this music doing pirouettes in your head. Good stuff.

One final discovery of transformed opera music:


Earl Wild’s “Fantasy on Porgy and Bess,” a remarkable piano transcription of music from Gershwin’s only opera, is given a fine performance by Hyperion Knight. Also in the set is Gershwin’s own solo piano arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue. By the way, Gershwin wanted to study with Maurice Ravel, but Ravel is reported to have said, “Why be a second rate Ravel, when you can be a first rate Gershwin?” As it turns out, you can hear definite Gershwin influences in Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G.

Bill Dodd

Bill Dodd

Bill Dodd is a retired radio broadcaster who was born and raised near San Francisco, but now lives in the USA’s Pacific Northwest. “Discovery is important to me. Along with finding an exciting new viewpoint of a favorite work, I really love discovering music and composers I haven’t heard before, or haven’t been able to get close to in the past.”

Comments are closed.