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Classics of American Romanticism

The Orchestra Now/Leon Botstein (Bridge)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Classics of American Romanticism
Bristow: Symphony No. 4, ‘Arcadian’; Fry: Niagara Symphony
The Orchestra Now/Leon Botstein
Bridge BRIDGE9572   54:57 mins


In George Frederick Bristow’s wagon train, going by the journey described in his Fourth Symphony of 1872, nothing threatening ever happens, even in the movement featuring an Indian attack. Everything ends in rustic joy, dancing round the new homestead. Bristow sprinkles a few kinks into his handling of European sonata form, but his generally emollient musical material isn’t individual enough to fully sustain a symphonic structure of 42 minutes. Still, striking moments often arrive (the first movement’s viola solos, the slow movement’s closing nightscape), each of them relished by the passionate precision of the international student musicians bonded together by Leon Botstein in his Orchestra Now. It’s the symphony’s first complete recording.

William Henry Fry’s immediately ear-grabbing Niagara Symphony of 1854 was written for a ‘Monster Concert’ organised by that refined showman PT Barnum, but seemingly never performed until its 1999 Naxos recording. You get 12 glorious minutes of rushing arpeggios, hammered fortissimo chords, and trembling rolls of questionable tonality from four timpani players – all conceived by a pugnacious composer never afraid of tossing aside rules of good taste for the joys of the blatantly picturesque. More tone poem than symphony, the music follows a conventional ABA structure, though the underpinning disappears under the grandeur and force of Fry’s amazing sound portrait of Niagara Falls.


Geoff Brown