Frederick Converse: American Sketches; Song of the Sea; Festival of Pan

Keith Lockhart

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Frederick Converse: American Sketches; Song of the Sea; Festival of Pan Review

by Stephen Eddins

In the first decades of the 20th century, Frederick Converse (1871-1940) was known as one of the outstanding American composers of classical music, but his work is largely forgotten today. There is some irony in the fact that these three pieces are given their premiere recordings by the BBC Concert Orchestra on the British label Dutton, rather than by American ensemble for a U.S. company. Like most of his American contemporaries, Converse studied in Germany and developed a Wagnerian, late Romantic style that for a while was the lingua franca of the American musical establishment. His music doesn't show the kind of individuality that would make it stand up to that of the most interesting composers of his time, but he was technically accomplished and a brilliant orchestrator. The first two works on the album, Song of the Sea, tone poem after Whitman, and Festival of Pan, are proficient and colorful, even stirring, examples of the pictorialism so pervasive in music of the era. While this might not be the most original music, it can't be denied that it has a surging energy that makes it easy for the listener to be carried along. The most impressive of the pieces is American Sketches, three of whose four movements evoke specific locations: Manhattan, the Mississippi River, and the Grand Canyon. They are appropriately evocative and seem to have been written out of sense of passion; the large landscapes summon a grandeur that feels entirely authentic. Keith Lockhart, an American and a specialist in American music, draws excellent, dramatic performances from the expert BBC Concert Orchestra. Dutton's sound is detailed, clean, and spacious. The album should appeal to fans of late Romanticism and anyone interested in the development of Western classical music in America.

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