EMI Classics' American Ballets in its "American Classics" series is quite similar to a midline FDS package EMI marketed in 1997 that combined George Antheil's Capital of the World with William Schuman's Undertow and British-Italian composer Raffaello de Banfield's 1949 ballet Combat. However, in the American Classics issue it has jettisoned the foreign Banfield work and replaced it with Morton Gould's Fall River Legend; actually an improvement because the Gould work suits the others better. These were recorded between 1953 and 1955 by conductor Joseph Levine, who was at that time director of the American Ballet Theater, and this is the American Ballet Theater Orchestra although merely credited to "Ballet Theater Orchestra," as it did not yet have the "American" part of the name attached to it. A dramatic change in recording quality occurs between the Antheil, Schuman and the Gould work; the Gould is much clearer and richer than its slightly scrawny and gritty companions, and this is the result of improvements in Capitol's FDS recording system.
For many years, this 1954 recording was the only one of Antheil's Capital of the World, a once highly popular ballet that aired on early television; in one form or another it was an in-print item in Capitol's LP catalog for many years. This bullfight-based ballet, with Antheil's able facility with Latin motifs at the back of it, is clearly populist in style and should not be confused with his futurist work of the 1920s. It still packs a punch, particularly the "Knife Dance" that concludes the work. Schuman's Undertow is a ballet written in 1944 for Antony Tudor on a theme not revealed to the composer until the dress rehearsal; it is one of his purest scores and curiously (in June 2009) only one other recording had been made of it, an earlier effort from 1950 taken from an NBC Symphony broadcast led by Guido Cantelli. Far better known and better covered on recordings is the Gould, and the alternatives are meaningful; Howard Hanson on Mercury and Gould himself on RCA Victor. Nevertheless, if you missed the older CD coupling the first time around, then this isn't a bad deal, and in the first two instances is heard by the orchestra and conductor that gave the premieres of these works. Just bear in mind that the sound is not up to twenty first century standards, though the package looks new; on the back, it does state that the disc is "Mono/ADD," but perhaps not in the most conspicuous place.