The Music of Harl McDonald, Volume 3 (1943-56) - PASC491

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The Music of Harl McDonald, Volume 3 (1943-56) - PASC491

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McDONALD Violin Concerto
McDONALD Elegy and Battle Hymn
Symphony No. 3, “A Tragic Cycle”
Builders of America

Studio recordings, 1943-56
Total duration: 79:13

The Philadelphia Orchestra ∙ Eugene Ormandy
Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra ∙ Fabien Sevitzky
Columbia Chamber Orchestra ∙ Harl McDonald

This set contains the following albums:

Harl McDonald - Symphony No. 3, Violin Concerto & more!

" I can think of no living American composer who surpasses McDonald at his best" -Fanfare

For this third and final volume in Pristine’s series devoted to the music of Harl McDonald, we turn primarily to live performances of works which were never recorded commercially. His hauntingly melodic Violin Concerto, which had its première the day before the broadcast heard here, shows the influences of several late Romantic composers (Elgar, Sibelius and Rachmaninov among them). The soloist is the Philadelphia Orchestra’s concertmaster, Alexander Hilsberg.

The next selection offers an opportunity to hear a McDonald work in progress. Before he included the “Elegy and Battle Hymn” in his symphonic suite My Country at War (reissued on Pristine PASC 430), it was a stand-alone work with a baritone soloist. The text (“Tall youth, with all of life and living stretched before you/Destroyed, destroyed by treachery”) was based on an essay by Edward Gilson, and deals with the surprise attack on America by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor and the promise of retribution to come. The broadcast heard here was the world première performance conducted by Fabien Sevitzky, who had previously introduced the “1941” movement of My Country.

The next work suggests an unexpected connection. A cycle of sorrowful songs based on the works of a Chinese poet, translated in the composer’s vernacular – could his Third Symphony be Harl McDonald’s Das Lied von der Erde? Unlike the Mahler work, however, there is no pentatonic Chinoiserie here; McDonald was not out to stress the cultural origins of his text. “My object,” he wrote in a program note for the work’s première, “was to uncover in the poems four phases of tragedy that were unlimited by racial conventions or literary styles and to concentrate on the subject matter which seemed universal.” Leopold Stokowski introduced the piece with the Philadelphia Orchestra in January, 1936, and the Ormandy performance heard here was given the year after McDonald’s death as a tribute by the orchestra to its longtime former manager.

While Mahler may not have been the antecedent for the Third Symphony, Copland was the likely inspiration for the final work on our program, the only studio recording here, and the last one made by the composer. The cantata Builders of America expands on the model of Lincoln Portrait by adding a chorus and focusing on two Presidents. The sung text was based on a poem by Edward Shenton, expanded to include a narration authoritatively declaimed here by actor Claude Rains. The recording was made less than a week after the work’s première during a session otherwise devoted to the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the “Columbia Chamber Orchestra” may well include members of that ensemble. (The solo flautist certainly seems to have William Kincaid’s trademark vibrato.) With the exception of two additional recordings of works which had previously been set down on disc (a 1953 taping of From Childhood conducted by Felix Slatkin, and a 1996 version of “Fiesta” from San Juan Capistrano with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops), Builders of America would bring to a close the discography of the works of Harl McDonald.

Mark Obert-Thorn

Violin Concerto (1943)

1 1st Mvt.: Allegro moderato (8:13)
2 2nd Mvt.: Andante (6:41)
3 3rd Mvt.: Allegro moderato (4:30)

Alexander Hilsberg (violin)
Eugene Ormandy ∙ The Philadelphia Orchestra

Live recording, 17 March 1945 in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia

Elegy and Battle Hymn (1942)

4 Elegy (7:23)
5 Battle Hymn (5:10)

George Newton (bass-baritone)
Fabien Sevitzky ∙ Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

Live recording, 28 January 1943 in the Murat Theatre, Indianapolis

Symphony No. 3, “A Tragic Cycle” (Lamentations of Fu Hsuan) (1935)

6 1st Mvt.: Molto adagio – Molto agitato (13:03)
(“The night is calm and softly breathes the earth”)

7 2nd Mvt.: Adagio maestoso (6:41)
(“Once more may I gaze upon thy face, – once more”)

8 3rd Mvt.: Marziale con ismania (4:00)
(“Demons and shadows are charging through the night”)

9 4th Mvt.: Molto adagio – Molto agitato (8:09)
(“A cloud of darkness covers all the earth”)

Emelina De Vita (soprano)
Philadelphia Orchestra Chorus ∙ William R. Smith (director)
Musical Art Society of Camden ∙ Henry Smith (director)
Eugene Ormandy ∙ The Philadelphia Orchestra

Live recording, 17 November 1956 in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia

10 Builders of America (Washington and Lincoln) (1953) (15:23)

Claude Rains (narrator)
Harl McDonald ∙ Columbia Chamber Orchestra and Chorus

Recorded 26 April 1953 in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia
First issued on Columbia ML-2220

Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer:  Mark Obert-Thorn
Pitch stabilisation (Tracks 1–3) and additional noise reduction (Track 10):  Andrew Rose
Special thanks to Peter Bay, David DeBoor Canfield, Frederick P. Fellers, Dr. Karl Miller and Edward Sargent for providing source material

Total Timing:  79:16