John Knowles Paine Symphony No. 2 – American Masterwork

John Knowles Paine was one of the first American composers to break onto the international scene. Along with other members of the “Boston Six” (Amy Beach, Arthur Foote, Edward MacDowell, George Chadwick, and Horatio Parker), he well-known in Europe as well as the U.S.

Paine’s Symphony No. 2 in a major, op. 34 shows why his music was so well-regarded abroad. Although subtitled “In the Spring,” this 1879 work isn’t a strictly programmatic work. Instead of painting a detailed picture, or telling a story, the music simply presents impressions of what the movements claim to be about (Awakening of Nature, May-Night Fantasy, etc.)

The work reminds me quite strongly of Mendelssohn and Schumann symphonies. The orchestration is straight-forward like Mendelssohn’s, while the harmonic progressions owe more to Schumann with their lushness (and seem to echo Stephen Foster in places).

Also included are two shorter orchestral works: The Prelude to “Oedipus Tyrannus” and “Poseidon and Amphitrite.” The latter, subtitled “An Ocean Fantasy” evokes the motion of the sea without being obvious about it.

JoAnn Falletta leads the Ulster Orchestra in straightforward no-nonsense performances of these works. Paine’s symphony may not be as full-blooded as those of Brahms, but it holds up well by comparison. An important addition to the collection of American repertoire recordings.

John Knowles Paine: Orchestral Works 2
Symphony No. 2 in A major, Op. 34 “In the Spring”; Oedipus Tyrannus, Op. 35, Prelude; Poseidon and Amphitrite – An Ocean Fantasy, Op. 44
Ulster Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta, conductor
Naxos 8.559748

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