Leo Sowerby: Symphony No. 2 - Other Works
- CDR 90000 039
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The roaring '20s cover photo for Cedille Records' disc of American composer Leo Sowerby's symphonic music shows bumper-to-bumper traffic heading south on Michigan Avenue in the direction of Orchestra Hall, home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. If any of those motorists in their now-classic cars were headed to a symphony concert, the odds are high they would hear something by Sowerby (1895-1968).
This CD aims to restore Sowerby's stature as a symphonist who "can be rated favorably with . . . his exact contemporary Howard Hanson and the younger Samuel Barber" (Fanfare). Paul Freeman conducts both of "his" orchestras, the Chicago Sinfonietta and Czech National Symphony Orchestra, in world premiere recordings of Sowerby's Concert Overture; Passacaglia, Interlude and Fugue; and Symphony No. 2 in B. Also on the disc is the jazz-ifused program overture All On a Summer's Day (1954), commissioned and first recorded by the Louisville Orchestra and conductor Robert Whitney (a former Sowerby student). The music is presented in concert format, with each "half" containing an overture followed by a larger work.
The Second Symphony (1927-28), Sowerby's most popular, "is vintage Sowerby", writes Francis Crociata of the Leo Sowerby Foundation, citing its "brilliant orchestration . . . a heart-on-sleeve inner movement with its memorable horn solo, and explicit and virtuosic use of counterpoint culminating in a grand orchestral fugue."
Sowerby originally composed Passacaglia, Interlude and Fugue for solo piano. Following the success of his Second Symphony in Chicago and tone poem Prairie in Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Chicago, he orchestrated Passacaglia for Frederick Stock of the Chicago Symphony. Sowerby wrote, "While the classic design of the Passacaglia has been adhered to rather strictly, the entire conception of the music is unacademic, and if anything, romantic."
Little is known about Sowerby's Concert Overture (1941), which bears a kinship to the music of William Walton, a friend of Sowerby's since 1927. According to Crociata, "Walton's spare, swift, and humorous orchestral writing was very much in Sowerby's ear and consciousness" at the time.
All on a Summer's Day (1954) was one of the earliest of the Louisville Orchestra's celebrated series of contemporary music commissions. "My desire," Sowerby wrote, "was to express and carry over to those who listen the sense of joy which June brings - a joy sometimes happily carefree, sometimes marked by a touch of wistfulness - and which I experienced at the time of its making."
Once a precocious twenty-something composer as comfortable writing for Paul Whiteman's band as for the Chicago Symphony, Sowerby was later dismissed as passé by much of the post-World War II musical establishment and its academic theorists, becoming pigeonholed as an organ and choral composer, albeit a stellar one. (In all, he composed 550 works for every medium except opera.)
Cedille's restoration of Sowerby the symphonist began with its 1997 release, Prairie: Tone Poems by Leo Sowerby, with maestro Freeman and his Czech orchestra. That disc, brimming with what Fanfare called "the glories of Sowerby's orchestral cosmos," was deemed "one of the most important contributions to American discography in recent years . . . Not to be missed!"