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Hermann: Moby Dick
Dark Dances of the Mardi Gras
Carnegie Hall, New York, 5 December 1937
Charles Wakefield Cadman (piano)
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York
Moby Dick – A Cantata
Carnegie Hall, New York, 14 April 194
William Hain (Ishmael), William Horne (Starbuck), Philip Reep (Pip & First Sailor) & Gean Greenwell (Second Sailor)
Male Chorus of the Westminster Choir & Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York
When Barbirolli took up the position in New York, in succession to Arturo Toscanini, no less, he perforce came into contact with an indigenous American repertoire of which previously he would naturally have been unaware. A study of Barbirolli’s programmes during his ‘New York’ period reveals a surprising catholicity of repertoire, but within that repertoire may be found examples of American music that undoubtedly benefitted from his practical attention. The two works on this disc amply demonstrate that assertion.
The first, and the more significant, is a large-scale cantata by Bernard Herrmann, ‘Moby Dick’, based on the 1851 novel by the 19th-century American writer Herman Melville. It tells of one man’s obsession with capturing and killing a large white whale, responsible in an earlier encounter for the sailor losing his leg, the animal having been named Moby Dick. Herrmann was born in New York City in 1911, and wrote the cantata in 1936, and is scored for two soloists, male voice chorus and orchestra.
This performance was the world premiere. Few composers could wish for a finer first outing of their work than that given to the cantata by Barbirolli, but what makes this recording more valuable is that it is of the original version of the score, for when, over 30 years later, the music came to be published, Herrmann took the opportunity of revising the work slightly – so in this performance we not only hear the work in its original form, but also in a manner which will never be repeated.
Barbirolli and Herrmann selected highly gifted singers for the parts of Ishmael and Ahab: the American baritone Robert Weede (Ahab) was one of the finest of his generation, having made his Metropolitan Opera debut a little over two years prior to the ‘Moby Dick’ performance; he also gave lessons to Mario Lanza and scored his greatest success in the 1950s in Frank Loesser’s Broadway musical ‘The Most Happy Fella’. William Hain (Ishmael) was, by 1940, a well-established New York tenor, noted for his well-attended comprimario recitals rather than for his operatic work; William Horne, taking the much smaller part of Starbuck, went on to become best-known for singing the title role of Peter Grimes in the American premiere of Britten’s opera, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, in 1946 at Tanglewood. Barbirolli’s performance of Charles Wakefield Cadman’s ‘Dark Dances of the Mardi Gras’ was the first of this work by the New York Philharmonic- Symphony, although Cadman’s ‘Fantasy for piano and orchestra’ (as it is sub-titled) had been given its world premiere in the summer of 1933 at the Hollywood Bowl with the composer as soloist (as he is in this recording). Barbirolli’s performance in December 1937 marked the work’s fourteenth performance in America – indicative of the impact the work had soon made. In this performance, we can certainly admire the composer’s virtuosity alongside Barbirolli’s generous and committed orchestral support.
“[William Hain] is on beautiful form, especially in the pastel-coloured aria 'It was a clear steel-blue day'. Barbirolli drives the drama along with an almost reckless glee...This 40-minute performance is full of pep and palpable excitement.” Gramophone Magazine, December 2011
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Bernard Herrmann: Moby Dick & Sinfonietta for Strings
Bernard Herrmann, born in New York in 1911 to Russian immigrants, is best known today as a composer of film music. Most notably he worked with Alfred Hitchcock on classic productions such as North by Northwest, Vertigo, and Psycho, as well as on Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. But despite his strong ties to Hollywood, Herrmann always thought of himself as a composer who worked in film, and never as a ‘mere’ film composer.
It was during his years as conductor and composer with the CBS Symphony Orchestra that Herrmann got the inspiration for Moby Dick – A Cantata. Initially, Herrmann intended the work as an opera, but he soon concluded that the stage was not an ideal medium for a musical version of Moby Dick – and a purely orchestral work could not make use of Herman Melville’s prose. A successful compromise was the cantata form, and Herrmann completed the work in 1938. It was premiered by John Barbirolli and the New York Philharmonic on 11 April 1940, the conductor describing the work as the most important work that he had heard from a young American composer.
For a short period in the early 1930s, Herrmann was inspired by the works of Arnold Schoenberg and his followers. The infatuation did not last long. It culminated – and ended – with the Sinfonietta for Strings of 1935 – 36, a work which never received a public performance. The Sinfonietta remained forgotten until the early 1960s when Herrmann adopted it as a model for the latter half of his famous film score to Hitchcock’s Psycho, which illustrates Norman Bates’s disturbed state of mind. This disc presents the premiere recording of the Sinfonietta in its original version.
The works are performed by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, joined by the Danish National Choir in Moby Dick, under the direction of Michael Schønwandt, Music Director of the Royal Danish Orchestra and the Royal Opera in Copenhagen, and Principal Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic.
(also available to download from $10.50)
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