BBC Philharmonic give George Antheil its best

Chandos’ third installment in their George Antheil series features works from a variety of sources. It includes his Symphony No. 1 and several shorter works.

To my ears, Antheil’s first symphony, “Zingareska,” is the least successful of his six. John Storgårds and the BBC Philharmonic give it their best. Their performance is first-rate.

The underlying problem is the mix. It was the 1920s, and Antheil was fascinated with jazz. Unfortunately, the jazz elements never quite blend with their classical setting. Almost a century later, Antheil’s innovative experiment just sounds dated.

Any disappointment I felt listening to the first symphony was washed away by the other works in this program.

“McConkey’s Ferry Overture” (1948) was inspired by the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware. Unlike the painting, Antheil’s overture avoids cliches and easy patriotic references. Instead, Antheil gives us a roiling movie soundtrack, full of drama and energy.

“Capital of the World” was a 1955 ballet based on Ernest Hemingway’s “Horns of the Bull.” Antheil delivers a very Spanish-sounding work without going over the top. I’d characterize it as “An American in Madrid” (and that’s a compliment).

“The Golden Bird: Chinoiserie” and “Nocturne in Skyrockets” both demonstrate Antheil’s mastery of orchestral writing.

This release has John Storgårds and the BBC Philharmonic performing to their usual high standards. It’s just the material that let them down — a little.

George Antheil: Orchestral Works, Vol. 3
BBC Philharmonic; John Storgårds, conductor
Chandos CHAN 20080

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