Reuben Blundell and the Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra: American Romantics III

About

“American Romantics III” is the third volume in a project initiated by conductor Reuben Blundell after discovering several scores of previously unrecorded works by 19th century American composers through the Fleischer Collection. Blundell leads Philadelphia area Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra on this recording of premieres, some of which draw on Americana melodies while others reflect the prevailing Central European compositional style of the day.

Audio

These world-premiere recordings are the third in conductor Reuben Blundell’s series promoting music by American composers, from the rich but underrepresented (at least in performance) music of the late 19th and 20th century. Some of these composers were born in America, while others, from Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, and the Netherlands, joined and influenced the musical life of their adopted country. Beyond these orchestral works lie tantalizing, and mostly obscured, catalogs of compositions including operas, tone poems, symphonies, chamber music and songs. Blundell unearthed these pieces from the rich troves of the Edwin A. Fleischer Collection of Orchestral Music at the Free Library of Philadelphia. The Fleisher Collection is the world’s largest lending library of orchestral performance material, lending to performing organizations worldwide. Alongside virtually the entire standard repertoire, it houses many rare and out-of-print works, with a current collection of over 22,000 titles and growing. Some of these composers were born in America. Others, from Canada, Denmark, and Switzerland, joined and influenced the musical life of their adopted country. While the previous two recordings in the series featured works for string ensemble, this recording series features the Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra, a regional orchestra near Philadelphia that Blundell conducts.

  • RECORDED AT THE UPPER DARBY PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, DREXEL HILL, PA.
  • NOVEMBER 5, 2016 (BRANSCOMBE)
  • NOVEMBER 29, 2016 (BURLEIGH & BONVIN) FEBRUARY 11, 2017 (MACDOWELL & CADMAN 1-3) APRIL 29, 2017 (BUSCH)
  • SEPTEMBER 19, 2017 (CADMAN 4-5) OCTOBER 10, 2017 (SMITH)
  • UPPER DARBY PERFORMING ARTS CENTER
  • UPPER DARBY SCHOOL DISTRICT
  • HARRY DIETZLER, EXECUTIVE & ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
  • PRODUCER: Reuben Blundell
  • ENGINEER: Chris Gately
  • EDITING & MASTERING: Zach Herchen PROGRAM NOTES: Reuben Blundell
  • GRAPHIC DESIGN: Masataka Suemitsu ARTWORK: Albert Bierstadt, Valley of the Yosemite   

Reuben Blundell and the Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra

The Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1946 to provide music for the First Presbyterian Church of Lansdowne. By 1951 the orchestra had become Lansdowne’s community orchestra. e conductor and publisher Henri Elkan led the orchestra from 1955 until his passing in 1980. He initiated collaborations between the orchestra and area dance and choral ensembles and incorporated children’s concerts into the annual concert series. Elkan also featured prominent area musicians as soloists at LSO concerts. Dr. Jacques Voois, of West Chester University, took over the podium in 1980. He undertook the most ambitious venture to date in the orchestra’s history: performing live at a midnight concert broadcast around the world from within the United Nations in New York, in celebration of Earth Day. is performance was the rst by a symphony orchestra within the United Nations.

Irving Ludwig, a Philadelphia Orchestra violinist for many years, was appointed Music Director in 1991, raising the orchestra’s capabilities until his passing in 2012. Maestro Ludwig’s tenure was marked by an uncompromising pursuit of excellence, as well as the involvement of colleagues from the Philadelphia Orchestra, including current LSO concertmaster Herold Klein, and two talented sons, Mark Ludwig (violist with the Boston Symphony), and the violin soloist, recording artist, concertmaster and conductor Michael Ludwig. One of the most distinguished community orchestras in the world, the LSO performs a regular season of ve concerts at the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center, and other various projects. Led by its sixth Music Director, Reuben Blundell, the orchestra continues its traditions of musical excellence, service to the community, and promotion of area talent.

Reuben Blundell

Conductor Reuben Blundell is Music Director of the Lansdowne Symphony in Philadelphia and the Riverside Orchestra in New York. Regularly conducting and playing violin in the Chelsea Symphony, he is in demand as a performer and educator, having taught for the US State Department and nonprofit American Voices in Lebanon and Iraq, and built an orchestra at Hunter College (CUNY). He studied violin in Melbourne, Sydney and through fellowships with the Tanglewood Music Center and New World Symphony. Following summers at the Monteux School, he earned a doctorate in conducting at the Eastman School of Music. Currently, he is a faculty member at New York’s Trinity School and the Bloomingdale School of Music. He lives with his wife, oboist Karen Birch Blundell, daughter Elizabeth, and their cat, Gracy, in Upstate Manhattan.

http://www.reubenblundell.com/

Reviews

WRTI

The chamber-sized Gowanus Arts Ensemble, conducted by Reuben Blundell, makes this premiere recording sing with an intimate intensity. Blundell also directs New York’s Riverside Orchestra and the Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra, just outside Philadelphia. His researching and recording of these American Romantics, in collaboration with Curator Gary Galván and Assistant Curator Stu Serio at the Fleisher Collection, is a boon to a deeper understanding of this country’s music.

-- Kile Smith, WRTI, 5.5.2018

textura

To a large degree the third volume in Reuben Blundell's American Romantics series picks up where the first two left off but for one significant difference. Whereas the initial sets feature Blundell conducting the ten-member Gowanus Arts Ensemble, the third presents material performed by the Philadelphia area Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra, of which he's Music Director (he holds the same title for the Riverside Orchestra in New York). As commendable as the first volumes are, the third benefits noticeably from the opulence a full orchestra brings to the music.

That difference aside, the latest collection shares much with the others, and again we're indebted to Blundell for bringing this material into the world and rescuing it from oblivion. As before, he selected previously unrecorded pieces from the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music at the Free Library of Philadelphia, and those performed are world premieres of works produced during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Some of the composers were born in America, while others emigrated from Denmark, Canada, and Switzerland. It's natural that some material reflects the influence of a European Romantic style, but a distinct American voice asserts itself, too, especially in those settings that draw from Native American themes and folk songs. Regardless of origin, the album's eight pieces are engagingly melodic and often pastoral and programmatic in character, and, as he did for the first installments, Blundell has provided detailed liner notes that provide fascinating background. Some composers were amazingly prolific: Gena Branscome, for example, wrote operas, orchestral works, and more than 150 songs, whereas the equally inexhaustible Charles Wakefield Cadman composed orchestral suites, chamber works, five operas, film music, and over 250 songs.

The sixty-nine-minute volume's framed by two dynamic pieces, their robust energy in keeping with their respective overture and festival procession status. Prince Hal (An Overture), composed in 1915 by David Stanley Smith (1877-1949), introduces the album on a high and true to overture form is wide-ranging. Alternating between episodes of sweeping grandeur and delicate introspection, the twelve-minute piece captures the rambunctious spirit of the Shakespearean character but also his reflective side. Immediately the impact of the orchestral resources is felt in the symphonic richness of the arrangement and the interplay of the strings, horns, and woodwinds. At album's end is Festzug (Festival Procession) by Ludwig Bonvin (1850-1939), a rousing set-closer marked by a horn theme one could imagine played at a fox hunt.

Rather more representative of the release are the plaintive settings between those bookends. Carl Busch (1862-1943), a familiar name from the preceding volumes, is represented on the third by two standouts, Minnehaha's Vision (1914) and The Song of Chibiabos (1916), both symphonic tone poems. With Busch drawing from Native American themes in the pieces, the first is a particularly lovely evocation that instantiates the pastoral and plaintive dimensions of the volume as a whole. A powerful sense of yearning is conveyed, the material reflecting the young Minnehaha as she awaits Hiawatha with expectation, and the romantic quality intensifies until peaceful resolution arrives, the moment signifying perhaps the couple's wedding (Busch used Longfellow's The Song of Hiawatha as originating material for the two settings). Following a gently serenading introduction, The Song of Chibiabos gradually darkens in tone, the work's trajectory perhaps intended to mirror the character's own evolution from beloved friend of Hiawatha to chief of the underworld after malevolent spirits steal him away from the living.

Two lovely miniatures follow. The artistry of Branscome (1881-1977), who was born in Picton, PEI and studied in Chicago and in Berlin (a year under the tutelage of Engelbert Humperdinck) before settling in NYC, is well-accounted for by 1911's A Memory, a gorgeous salon piece for violin that eleven years later was converted into an arrangement for strings and harp by William Happich. At An Old Trysting Place, by Edward MacDowell (1860-1908) and performed in a strings-only arrangement by Edmund Tiersch, is as elegiac as its title suggests and moving, too, despite its brevity (much the same could be said for Cecil Burleigh's At Sunset, graced by a stirring arrangement by William Happich). Considerably longer is Cadman's Thunderbird Suite (1918), a five-part work that, similar to Busch's, incorporates Native American themes, specifically Blackfeet Indian melodies in its three central movements. After the delicate pastoral opener “Before the Sunrise” (note its bird-like flute trills) we're presented with heartfelt longing (“Nuwana's Love Song,” “Night Song”), high spirits (“Wolf Dance”), and sombre drama (“The Passing of Nuwana”).

As the recording advances, one is of course struck by the high quality of the material but even more by the thought that without Blundell's intervention everything presented might never have been heard, notwithstanding the possibility that some other enterprising young conductor might have resurrected the material at some future date had Blundell not done so. It wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest that he deserves an award of some kind for rescuing this largely neglected abundance of musical treasures from the library's archives and returning their creators' names to the public eye.

— Ron Schepper, textura, 6.2018

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