Déjà Review: this review was first published in September 2003 and the recording is still available.

Ned Rorem (1923-2022)
Symphony No. 1 (1950)
Symphony No. 2 (1956)
Symphony No. 3 (1958)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/José Serebrier
rec. 2003, The Lighthouse, Poole, UK
Naxos 8.559149 [69]

Whatever “American” Style is, it is often alleged to have something to do with the experience of the great central plains of North America. Most of the creators of it spent time in Paris studying with Nadia Boulanger and with the exception of Roy Harris many of them rarely travelled west of the Hudson River. By the time Ned Rorem got around to writing his three symphonies, “American” style could as easily be learned at the Leningrad Conservatory as at Stuttgart, Vienna, or London. The one place it couldn’t be learned was at the Juilliard school in New York City which was obsessed with turning out Schoenberg clones, but wouldn’t hire the real Schoenberg.

Whatever “American Style” is, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, George Chadwick, John Knowles Paine, Edward MacDowell, Charles Tomlinson Griffes, Charles Martin Loeffler, Leonard Bernstein, Phillip Glass, and Alan Hovhaness never utilised it. Apparently there are some echoes of it in Dvořák, Malcolm Arnold, Hindemith and Berwald, a little bit in Samuel Barber’s Symphony #1, and certainly a lot of it in these three symphonies by Ned Rorem.

Rorem’s works are certainly more songful and perhaps a little more interesting than some other works they resemble – symphonies by Walter Piston, George Antheil, and Roy Harris – perhaps not quite so interesting as the two great masterpieces of the genre, the William Schuman and the Aaron Copland Third Symphonies, which have yet to receive a recording that sounds as good as this one. Rorem’s music has a lyrical vocality to it, but he doesn’t allow a good tune to overwhelm his symphonic structure.

Paul Shoemaker

See also reviews by Rob Barnett, John Quinn

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