Ian Hobson / Sinfonia Varsovia

Don Gillis: Paul Bunyan; Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6

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Don Gillis: Paul Bunyan; Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6 Review

by Blair Sanderson

The folk-like and openly patriotic elements of Don Gillis' big-hearted orchestral works are perhaps their most obvious characteristics -- over-emphasized in this CD's flag-waving cover art -- though close listening to the music brings out many subtler qualities, such as the composer's expansive lyricism, his keen ear for orchestration, his contrapuntal dexterity, his great rhythmic variety, and his rather sophisticated approaches to tonality and harmony. Gillis is jovial and broadly humorous in Paul Bunyan: An Overture to a Legend (1964), a fine piece in the populist vein, but his darker, introspective side is fully displayed in the brooding Symphony No. 6: Mid-Cenury U.S.A. (1948), a work reminiscent in some ways of Roy Harris' great Symphony No. 3. If, after hearing this work, any doubt remains of Gillis' depth of feeling, then the elegiac Symphony No. 5: In Memoriam (1945) will persuade the listener of his gravitas and skill in conveying tragic emotions, even in the midst of optimistically lyrical themes and sometimes heavy-handed rhythmic evocations of war. The Sinfonia Varsovia, conducted by Ian Hobson, is marvelously textured and richly shaded in these premiere recordings, and Albany has outdone itself in providing the best engineering and natural sound reproduction. Highly recommended for fans of Americana.

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