, January 2009
The Fourth is Piston’s most radiant and appealing symphony, one of the masterpieces of American—and not only American—symphonic writing. This and the three New England Sketches are among the composer’s strongest and most attractive scores, and they come here in outstanding performances under Gerard Schwarz, originally issued on the Delos label, and here made doubly attractive at super-bargain price. The four movements of the Symphony are all strongly characterized, with the gentle piacevole opening of the first movement leading to tough counterpoint, strongly syncopated, and the second movement Ballando rather like a hoe-down, vigorous open-air music with the evocative slow movement leading to a jaggedly rhythmic finale. The New England Sketches are more specifically evocative, set in contrast like a symphony, with a delicate picture of a Summer Evening placed between the opening picture of the seaside and the final rugged picture of Mountains. Even so, the musical argument is cogent, and although the Capriccio is less tautly constructed, it has an element of fantasy beautifully realized here by the excellent harpist, Therese Elder Wunrow. First-rate sound.