Spirit of the American Range

Carlos Kalmar / Oregon Symphony

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Spirit of the American Range Review

by James Manheim

The title Spirit of the American Range for this collection of American pieces by the Oregon Symphony Orchestra under their conductor Carlos Kalmar is a curious one, for none of the three pieces is Western in theme. One supposes that the Dutch Pentatone label found Aaron Copland's Symphony No. 3 evocative in its language of the Americana heard in several of the works of Copland's populist period, but the suite from Walter Piston's ballet The Incredible Flutist pertains to a generic village and not a specifically American one, and George Antheil's A Jazz Symphony, presented here in a rarely heard 1955 version for reduced forces, is positively urban. Taken at face value, though, the performances work well and make sense together. Copland's symphony is the most popular of the three pieces, but audiophile recordings are not abundant, and even modest equipment will reveal the startling dynamic range of this version. Copland's "American" musical language is really French in many respects, and Kalmar's crisp reading grasps the economical quality combined with the epic signifiers. Antheil's A Jazz Symphony is an underrated work, not so much a counterpart to Gershwin as a forerunner to the likes of Michael Daugherty, and the Piston work, colorful and accessible to all, is also deserving of rediscovery. A pleasing collection of American music, even if its concept will be mysterious on the music's home ground.

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