Among fanciers of symphonic wind band music, one of the most respected mid-twentieth century American composers is Vincent Persichetti, whose Symphony No. 6 and Divertimento, for band, Op. 42, are acknowledged masterworks of the genre. That his purely orchestral music is not accorded the same degree of respect is no fault of the Louisville Orchestra and its director Robert Whitney, whose decades-old Louisville Orchestra subscription recordings remain the gold standard for such works. This First Edition Music release, Vincent Persichetti, restores to the catalog classic recordings of Persichetti's Serenade No. 5, Op. 43, Symphony for strings, Op. 61, and the Symphony No. 8. Persichetti's basic tonal language is diatonic, often colored by the tart addition of polytonal harmonies, reserving the use of dissonance mainly for quasi-fugal sections.
The Serenade No. 5 employs a freely ranging adaptation of the classical period divertimento as its model, and manages to cram six short and pithy movements into a frame lasting barely 11 minutes' duration. Some of these ideas are good, and could have stood to have run a bit longer, but it's still a highly enjoyable piece, with its fleet passagework for winds reminiscent of William Schuman's popular New England Triptych. The Symphony for strings is the most biting and difficult music found on Vincent Persichetti, but it is dramatically quite coherent, never straying far from its purpose. Anyone who enjoys Bernard Herrmann's string orchestra score for Psycho will get something out of Persichetti's Symphony for strings, and it is a strong possibility that Persichetti's "black and white music" may have helped inspire Herrmann in this instance -- after all, Herrmann was an avid record nut and probably a Louisville Orchestra subscriber. Conductor Jorge Mester concludes the program effectively with a lively and dedicated performance of the Symphony No. 8
The recorded sound, even that in mono, is terrific, engineered toward a strong natural balance of the whole orchestra, rather than to highlight individual instruments or sections. The sharp and somewhat shrill sound of the high end in the 1954 recording of Symphony for strings actually seems to suit the flavor of the music, and neither the 1960 and 1970 recordings sound dated in the least.