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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

George Antheil - Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5 (Hugh Wolff)


Composer: George Antheil
  1. Symphony No. 4 "1942": I. Moderato
  2. Symphony No. 4 "1942": II. Allegro
  3. Symphony No. 4 "1942": III. Scherzo
  4. Symphony No. 4 "1942": IV. Allegro non troppo
  5. Decatur at Algiers
  6. Symphony No. 5 "Joyous": I. Allegro
  7. Symphony No. 5 "Joyous": II. Adagio molto
  8. Symphony No. 5 "Joyous": III. Finale. Allegretto

Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra
Hugh Wolff, conductor
Date: 2000
Label: cpo



The Antheil centenary boom goes on with further convincing advocacy from Hugh Wolff and his Frankfurt team. No 4, written in the worst years of the war, gets an ebullient performance which, for me, has the edge over the Ukranians since the recorded sound is richer. The music employs juxtapositions, exactly like cinematic cuts, that have little to do with symphonic development and are less dominated by Stravinsky than some of Antheil’s earlier works. The tunes are memorable.

The novelty here is Decatur at Algiers, called a nocturne although it’s based on Stephen Decatur conquering the Barbary pirates in the early 1800s. There’s an attractive Arabic flavour about the spooky principal theme on the oboe. This release also brings the Fifth Symphony – first recorded by the Vienna Philharmonia under Herbert Haefner in 1952 – back into the catalogue. This is a war symphony too. Antheil lost his brother in the conflict and dedicated the symphony to ‘the young dead of all countries who sacrificed everything’.

The first movement is continuously bustling in an idiom which crosses Stravinsky with jazz: it works. The Adagio molto is an elegiac siciliano, and the finale is a pot-pourri which raises constant echoes – that’s how musical kleptomania operates. Almost at the start Antheil recalls the opening of Shostakovich’s Fifth in homage to America’s wartime ally. These are all fine performances, well recorded too – another impressive case for later Antheil on his own terms.

-- Gramophone

More reviews:


George Antheil (July 8, 1900 – February 12, 1959) was an American avant-garde composer, pianist, author and inventor whose modernist musical compositions explored the modern sounds – musical, industrial, mechanical – of the early 20th century. Spending much of the 1920s in Europe, Antheil returned to the US in the 1930s, and thereafter spent much of his time composing music for films and, eventually, television. A man of diverse interests and talents, Antheil was constantly reinventing himself. He wrote magazine articles, an autobiography, a mystery novel, newspaper and music columns.


Hugh Wolff (born October 21, 1953, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France) is an American conductor. He received his education at Harvard and at Peabody Conservatory, studied composition with Olivier Messiaen, conducting with Charles Bruck and piano with Leon Fleisher. Wolff began his career in 1979 as assistant conductor to Mstislav Rostropovich at the National Symphony Orchestra. He was Principal Conductor of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1997 to 2006. Wolff has recorded extensively for Teldec, Sony and others, has been nominated three times for a Grammy and has twice won the Cannes Classical Award.


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