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Penguin Guide, January 2009

John Alden Carpenter came from a wealthy Illinois family, and in spite of receiving every encouragement to develop his musical talent (which showed itself when he was still quite young) he put the family business first, eventually becoming Vice-President. His musical training included study under Elgar and this shows in his confident handling of the orchestra. Adventures in a Perambulator (which includes encounters with Dogs, Dreams, The Lake, The Hurdy-Gurdy and The Policeman) is charmingly scored and pleasantly tuneful. The First Symphony, a well-planned single-movement work, divided into five linked sections, is [hardly more ambitious. But again its invention is] warmly attractive and its nostalgic atmosphere holds the listener in its undemanding spell.

The Second opens more dramatically…The Ukraine Orchestra obviously enjoy this music and play it very well indeed. The Naxos recording is first class and the documentation includes the composer’s own notes for Adventures in a Perambulator.

Mark L. Lehman
American Record Guide, December 2001

"You have to hand it to Naxos. Here--on one very-nicely-performed program (played with gusto, polish, and complete sympathy by those specialists in American repertoire, the Ukraine National Symphony!!) and recorded in clean, bright, engaging sound--is John Alden Carpenter's cheeky evergreen classic from 1914, Adventures in a Perambulator, mated with the first-ever recordings of his two hitherto unknown symphonies. And it sells for less than a cheap haircut. (Probably much less--the last time I paid for a haircut was 1968.)

The music is outgoing, relaxed, and enjoyable from beginning to end. There's no attempt at profundity or deep personal feeling. Adventures, in six movements depicting the tiny voyager's travels, begins magically, with a gentle aquarelle flourish, and soon moves on to episodes sweet, tender, animated, dreamy, and picturesque. This charming, warm, modest, buoyant music reminds us of the old adage: To be loved, be lovable. The symphonies (revised in the 1940s from much-earlier compositions) are similar in idiom, though the Second is a little grander and weightier, the orchestration faintly Mahlerian sometimes. With their ingratiating tunes, pastel colors, casual approach to form, and (for the most part) good-humored mien, they could have just as easily been decked out as Adventures of a Toddler and Adventures of a Cub Scout. We can sure, however, that this civilized and urbane composer would never have attempted anything so savage and brutal as Adventures of a Teenager."

Martin Anderson
International Record Review, December 2001

"The two symphonies are receiving their first recordings and are thus unfamiliar stuff. The performances seem adequate, though perhaps a little cautious: some true-blue-American swagger might have woken the music up a little. Good sound."

Raymond Tuttle
Fanfare, December 2001

"Their performances of the symphonies give me nothing to complain about; there is, however nothing to compare them to...Naxos's annotations are adequate, and the engineering is satisfying"

Peter Dickinson
Gramophone, September 2001

"Adventures in a Perambulator was one of the most successful pieces of American orchestral music in the first decade of the 20th century. Listeners, used to the musical depictions of French composers - The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Dukas, Debussy's La mer took to its imaginative description of various pram-ride adventures seen from a baby's point of view. The composer, John Alden Carpenter (1876-1951), provided an elaborate programme for the (Parisian-set) excursions. The pieces are attractively scored and show Carpenter, with ballets such as Krazy Kat and Skycrapers still to follow, at his best.

"This is not true of the so-called Symphony No 1 (1940). Even without Howard Pollack's informative notes - see also his book, John Alden Carpenter: A Chicago Composer (University of Illinois: 1995) - it's possible to tell that this is a revised version of a much earlier work premiered in 1917. With its sections separated off, it should have been called a suite. You can tell that Carpenter admired Elgar, since the C major peroration is virtually nobilmente w with only a soft rogue high B flat which, had it been Ives, would have been there to raise two fingers at the end.

"The Second Symphony, with three balanced movements, is far more cohesive. Again it's a reworking (this time of 1934 Piano Quintet) but more successful. The energetic first movement makes an impact but the Andante is perplexing. It opens like Wagner, goes on with a Mendelssohnian strain (0'42"0 soon gravitating towards Mahler, and there's an unexpectedly violent outburst (5'02") near the end.

"The breezy finale is close to Russian models, which these Ukrainian players obviously understood and enjoyed, and ends predictably. So it's good to have an efficient modern version of the Adventures, even if modern prams aren't as elegant as that in the cover picture. You won't find the symphonies anywhere else."

Donald Rosenberg
Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 2001

"Carpenter knew his craft from top to bottom, and the pieces on this fine new disc reflect his lively, endearing musical mind...John McLaughlin Williams conducts vibrant performances...Why an American orchestra wasn't hired to record this very American music is no mystery (too expensive). The National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, nevertheless, responds to the American conductor with playing that blends sensitivity with zest."

William Littler
Toronto Star, June 2001

"Although famous in the 1920's and the only American composer to have written a commissioned score for Diagilev's Ballets Russes, John Alden Carpenter (1876 - 1951) is remembered today largely for having devised one of the most original titles ever given a piece of music. Adventures in a Perambulator (1914) cleverly depicts a day in the life of a baby (Walt Disney thought enough of it to select the music for an ultimately aborted sequel to Fantasia), quoting popular songs and taking a colourfully description approach throughout. The Symphonies 1 & 2 were also popular in their day, championed by such conductors as Frederick Stock and Fritz Reiner before falling out of fashion when Romanticism went into eclipse. Today they sound like period pieces, but charmingly worthy of revival nonetheless. John McLaughlin WIlliams conducts their premiere recording with obvious commitment."

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International

"The world is not short of composers who set Whitman or were inspired by him. Name another composer, apart from Delius, who turned to Sea Drift for inspiration? John Alden Carpenter wrote an orchestral piece inspired by the poem. He is also the composer of 'Twenties trendy ballets Krazy Kat (1921) and Skyscrapers (1923-4). His suite of sophisticated light music: Adventures in a Perambulator, forms the centre-piece of this latest disc in the munificent Naxos American Classics series. It suggests a composer with a Gallic sensibility. In it delicacy and resilience is mixed with a thoroughly stocked imagination. The suite would manage quite contentedly without its 'story' which has been supplied by the composer. Carpenter's highly detailed plotline note is printed in full. Its original and engaging tone compares well with James Agee's prose poem forming part of the text to that towering masterpiece of the American heritage, Barber's Knoxville. Try managing without the note if you can and see what you make of the suite. Ravel, Rimsky, Strauss and other inventive colourists are evidently Carpenter's heroes. The most striking movement is The Lake which could easily partner Goossens' By the Tarn or Vaughan Williams' much later Prelude to The 49th Parallel. Carpenter' consummate music-box charm is on display in Dreams in which he stands well clear of hyper-romanticism - always leaving his textures uncluttered and airy. He avoids the twee - a hazard which is gleefully embraced by the cover picture for the CD.

"Carpenter prided himself on the peaceful nature of the First Symphony. Copland ticks and tricks dance in and out of focus as in 00.47 in the Moderato first movement of the Second Symphony. The composer is not one for grieving rigour or furious protest though there is anger in the clamorous opening bars of the 1947 symphony. In both symphonies and especially the First we hear a composer in the Gallic-American school of Loeffler, Sowerby, Edward Burlinghame Hill and, in more modern times, Ned Rorem. These symphonies plumb no giddy emotional depths but they have the buoyant delicacy of Moeran's Sinfonietta and the Gallic-Hispanic sizzle of Ravel. Provided you set your expectation sights correctly you will find new friends here.

"Recording, performances and documentation are each admirable. The conductor is to be watched for the future. It would be a pity if he were to be lost to Naxos's pioneering series however we must not be surprised if his name is soon linked to the likes of the Dallas or Minnesota orchestras. I see that he has already recorded Henry Hadley's Fourth Symphony for a later Naxos disc. He does not lack adventurous and risk-taking spirit. As a violinist he has championed such utterly unfashionable repertoire as the Violin Concertos by Coleridge Taylor (1998 at Harvard), the Bax (Boston) and the Jongen (Longwood).

"A disc well worth adding to your collection - not as a gap filler, which it certainly is, but as an example of one of the most polished and imaginative talents at work in 1940s America."

David Hurwitz

"At last! The absence of a really good disc devoted to the music of John Alden Carpenter has long been one of the most glaring lacunae in the American classical music catalog. Individual works have turned up now and then (Sea Drift, the ballet Skyscrapers, or Krazy Kat), but never for very long, and certainly not to the extent Carpenter's musical gifts warrant. In what we can only pray will be the first of several discs devoted to this fine composer, Naxos offers two world-premiere recordings, plus the first new version of Adventures in a Perambulator since Howard Hanson's Mercury Living Presence recording made in the 1950s.

"Carpenter's music achieves originality through a synthesis of various elements: a solidly traditional educational background (he studied with, among others, John Knowles Paine and Edward Elgar); a touch of French impressionism (especially in the orchestration); and reference to American popular song and dance modes, including jazz. These elements remain constant in varying degrees throughout his life. And so in Adventures in a Perambulator (a delicious view of the world from inside a baby carriage), we hear Debussy-like modal harmony and enchanting orchestration featuring ample use of harp, celesta, and glockenspiel, along with a touch of Irving Berlin, and a whiff of nascent rag-time. The two symphonies graft these elements onto a larger-scaled structure, but come off sounding no less fresh. The First Symphony employs a five-in-one movement form that's full of surprises, including a magical, fade-away ending, while the Second adopts a more traditional three-movement structure and features an especially jazzy finale. While neither lasts more than 20 minutes, they are still major works, tuneful and sophisticated at once, and reminiscent of no one else.

"The National Symphony Orchestra of the Ukraine, as so often in Naxos' American Classics series, turns in fine performances of these three pieces under John McLaughlin Williams. At times in the Second Symphony's finale, you become conscious of the fact that the orchestra isn't quite comfortable with the syncopated rhythms, but then Carpenter's writing is frequently very exposed, and the problem is minor at best. Sonically, recordings from this source have been steadily improving, and this is one of the best. This delightful, important, lovable music belongs in every late-Romantic collection."

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