Reuben Blundell and the Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra: American Romantics III


“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.


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.

  • SEPTEMBER 19, 2017 (CADMAN 4-5) OCTOBER 10, 2017 (SMITH)
  • 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. Belgian-born 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. This performance was the first by a symphony orchestra within the UN.

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 five 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

Reuben Blundell is currently in his seventh season as Music Director of the Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra. With the musicians and board, he has overseen an expansion of repertoire to include contemporary composers including John Adams, Jennifer Higdon and Mason Bates. The orchestra’s community outreach now includes children’s concerts, collaborations with the Lansdowne Theater, Lansdowne Friends School, Lansdowne Public Library, and the Twentieth Century Club. The orchestra recently received the Borough of Lansdowne’s inaugural Sycamore Award for community engagement.

Additionally, Reuben is music director of the Riverside Orchestra in New York, and performs regularly with the Chelsea Symphony as both a violinist and conductor. In demand as a performer and educator, Dr. Blundell has served as an Assistant Professor at Pennsylvania’s Millersville University and New York’s Hunter College, and taught for the US State Department and nonprofit American Voices in Lebanon and Iraq. While studying violin in Melbourne and Sydney he was a regular substitute violinist with several Australian orchestras, and was a violin fellow at the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Music Center and the New World Symphony in Miami, Florida. Following summers at the Pierre Monteux School for Conductors and Orchestra Musicians, he earned a doctorate in conducting at the Eastman School of Music with Neil Varon. Currently, he is a faculty member at New York’s Trinity School.

He lives with his wife, oboist Karen Birch Blundell, daughter Elizabeth, and their cat, Gracy, in Manhattan.
10 Dec, 2018

New Focus Titles on 2018 Year End Lists

We're always honored to see our albums make it onto year-end best of lists, and we'll compile all of them on this page as they come in. Sequenza21 - Best Instrumental and Recital CDs of 2018: Jacob Greenberg's "Hanging Gardens" with Tony Arnold and Josh Modney's "Engage" both made the list 5 Against 4 - Best Albums of 2018: Christopher Trapani's "Waterlines" made the list at #33 National …

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21 Oct, 2018

New Focus titles on the 2018 Grammy Ballot

Several New Focus releases are listed under various categories on the 2018 Grammy's ballot. Voting for the first round is open now, and goes until October 31st. If you are a voting member, thank you for considering these recordings: TUN011: Du Yun: Dinosaur Scar Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance: #88 Best Contemporary Composition: #49 for Air …

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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



The Australian-born conductor Reuben Blundell continues to make splendid use of the Edwin A Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music at the Free Library of Philadelphia, whose holdings include thousands of familiar and neglected works. In 2016 New Focus Recordings released ‘American Romantics’ (10/16), the first result of Blundell’s exploration comprising little known music by late 19th- and early 20th-century composers born in the US or drawn to their adopted homeland. It is now followed by ‘American Romantics II’ (featuring, as on the initial release, the Brooklyn-based Gowanus Arts Ensemble) and ‘American Romantics III’ (with Blundell leading the Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra, a community ensemble in a suburb of Philadelphia).

The word ‘American’ in these discs’ titles must be taken with a dash of salt. Whatever its provenance, most of the music sounds distinctly European, with hints of Dvořák, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and any number of beloved Romantics. But what Blundell and colleagues offer is never less than appealing and accomplished, and certainly worthy of the occasional appearance on chamber and orchestral programmes.

‘American Romantics II’ begins with a favourite by the disc’s only household name, Stephen Foster: an arrangement of ‘Old Folks at Home’. The composers of the remaining pieces are remembered mostly for contributions to American academic and church life. Among them are such significant figures as George Whitefield Chadwick, represented by the charming Intermezzo, and Arthur Foote, whose bucolic Theme and Variations is an affecting and vibrant creation in the mould of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings.

More signs of New World influences – Native American elements and folk tunes – can be heard on ‘American Romantics III’, especially in Charles Wakefield Cadman’s Thunderbird Suite and two richly coloured scores by Carl Busch, Minnehaha’s Vision and The Song of Chibiabos. For swashbuckling allure long before Korngold seized attention in Hollywood, there’s David Stanley Smith’s Prince Hal overture. And anyone wondering how deeply Wagner inspired others should hear Ludwig Bonvin’s Festzug.

Blundell leads shapely, animated performances with both ensembles. The 10 Gowanus string players bring bountiful finesse to the repertoire, while the Lansdowne Symphony, a group of volunteer musicians, face their assignments with fine commitment.


Records International

Yet a new batch of American Late Romaticism deriving from the fabulous archives of Philadelphia’s Fleisher Collection library but this time for full orchestra instead of the string ensemble used for the first two releases. Busch (1914 and 1916) is inspired by Longfellow’s Hiawatha poem while Cadman (1918) takes his inspiration directly from Native American music while Smith (1915) and Bonvin are stylistically in the prevailing European mold. Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra; Reuben Blundell.


Limelight Magazine

This is the third volume in Australian-born conductor Reuben Blundell’s series devoted to premiere recordings of works by American (or American based) composers of the late 19th and early 20th-centuries. The first two discs featured the ten-piece Gowanus Arts Ensemble, but here Blundell conducts his Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra. All written immediately prior to or during World War I, the works are steeped in the European style – though Carl Busch and Charles Wakefield Cadman draw on Native American ideas. The disc opens with David Stanley Smith’s Prince Hal, An Overture based on Shakespeare’s character, while Busch’s Minnehaha’s Vision and The Song of Chibiabos find their genesis in Longfellow’s epic The Song of Hiawatha. Cadman’s colourful Thunderbird Suite – written for a play based on Native American mythology – is the most compelling work, taking Blackfoot Indian melodies as the basis for its three central movements.

Other highlights include Gena Branscombe’s A Memory, a lush work for strings and harp (originally a salon piece for violin) while Edward Macdowell’s At an Old Trysting Place and Cecil Burleigh’s At Sunset are pleasant but tend towards the saccharine. The disc’s blazing finale is Swiss-born Ludwig Bonvin’s bold and brassy Festzug (Festival Procession).

With some fine performances by the orchestra, this is well worth a listen if you’re looking for something off the beaten track.


American Record Guide

This is the third volume and by far the best in New Focus’s explorations of romantic Americana. David Stanley Smith (1877–1949) was a respected musical educator. His Prince Hal Overture (1915) is a superb piece of symphonic writing. He prefaces the score with the famous quote from Shakespeare’s Henry V, “my thrice-puissant liege is in the very Maymorn of his youth, ripe for exploits and mighty enterprises” then proceeds to write 13 minutes of music with that very exuberance. Its themes are apt and memorable—there’s even a melodically interesting fugue subject—with splendidly accomplished orchestration. This work can hold its own with some of the best symphonic character studies. I could name several American works from back then that are considerably inferior to it.

Carl Busch (1864–1943) was a Dane who spent most of his musical life in Kansas City. He became interested in using American Indian music. The tone poems here, Minnehaha’s Vision (1914) and Song of Chibiabos (1916), were inspired by Longfellow’s Hiawatha epic. Both are very attractive. Busch skillfully blends his Indian themes into even Delian harmonies without any serious musical disjunction. Unlike in Coleridge-Taylor’s oratorio, Chibiabos’s song here is not gentle, but violent and tragic.

Cadman’s Thunderbird Suite was originally for a Norman Bel Geddes play. Geddes in his youth had lived with Indians and admired their culture. Cadman’s use of Indian themes—mostly Blackfeet here—is picturesque. His scoring is imaginative, comparatively free of later Hollywood cliches. This sort of cultural crossing has lately come under fire from the PC fascists of academe; Cadman wrote an excellent essay refuting this rubbish back in 1915.

The other works are orchestrations of salon pieces, but fine examples of the genre. For example, A Memory by the Canadian composer Gena Branscombe was written for the American violinist Maud Powell. It’s essentially an elegant slow waltz, framed by a poignant melody as both intro and coda.

With repertoire this rare and good, it’s assuring to have the music played and conducted well. In addition to his sympathetic interpretations, Maestro Blundell also contributes excellent program notes. I’m earmarking this for one of my best of the year list and hope there are more in the series to follow.

-Don O'Connor, 8.23.2018, American Record Guide


The WholeNote

Lovely melodies and evocative tone-painting fill the first and third volumes of the American Romantics series created by conductor Reuben Blundell. Together these two CDs present first recordings of 19 pieces by 14 mostly forgotten late-19th- and early-20th-century composers born or active in the U.S.

In the first volume, Blundell leads the Gowanus Arts Ensemble, ten string players who also perform on American Romantics II, reviewed in The WholeNote this past February. In the latest release, Blundell appears as music director of the Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra, a professional-sounding community orchestra in Philadelphia.

Two composers, Ludwig Bonvin and Carl Busch, are featured in both discs under review. Swiss-born Bonvin (1850-1939) emigrated to Buffalo, where he served as music director of Canisius College. He’s represented by the hymn-like Christmas Night’s Dream for strings and the very Wagnerian Festival Procession for orchestra. Busch (1864-1943), from Denmark, settled in Kansas City, finding inspiration in North American Indigenous melodies. Volume I contains two movements from his Indian Tribal Melodies: Four North American Legends; Volume III includes two richly coloured, dramatic tone poems, Minnehaha’s Visionand The Song of Chibiabos, both based on Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha.

Another composer who wrote many works on First Nations subjects was Charles Wakefield Cadman (1881-1946), one of the few recognizable names in the American Romantics series. His five-movement Thunderbird Suite, said to incorporate Blackfoot melodies, is, at 21 minutes, by far the longest work on these two discs. The highly cinematic Suite dates from 1918, well before sound arrived in Hollywood, but it’s not surprising that, in later years, Cadman moved to Los Angeles where he would indeed go on to compose music for films.

Gena Branscombe (1881-1977), the only woman and only Canadian on these discs, was born in Picton, Ontario (not PEI, as the notes state) but left for the U.S. as a teenager to pursue her musical studies. There, she composed prolifically in all genres, founded and conducted the Branscombe Chorale, and commissioned and performed works by many other women composers. Her brief, bittersweet waltz, A Memory, a miniature Valse Triste, was originally for violin and piano; it’s heard in an arrangement for harp and strings.

Like A Memory, all of the predominantly short pieces on these two CDs are well worth hearing, though they tend to fall into the Easy Listening category. This series is obviously a labour of love for conductor Blundell and I hope he continues his pattern of one release per year. I look forward, however, to hearing more extended, substantial yet unfairly forgotten works by these unfairly mostly forgotten composers.

-Michael Schulman, 9.26.2018, The WholeNote

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