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Symphony 1 in F Minor / Symphony 2 in E Minor CD

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Audio CD, CD, October 26, 1999
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4:15
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (October 26, 1999)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Naxos American Classics
  • ASIN: B000026CWP
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #104,291 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By David A. Wend on November 16, 2001
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Meredith Willson had an impressive musical background. He attended the Julliard School (then known as the Damrosh Institute) where he studied flute and piccolo. He played in the John Phillip Sousa's band and the New York Philharmonic under Arturo Toscanini. He co-wrote the score for The Great Dictator with Charlie Chaplin and was the musical director for the Armed Forces Radio Services during the Second World War. He is better known for writing The Music Man and the Christmas song "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas."
Willson's two symphonies were written in 1936 and 1940 respectively and celebrate his favorite places: San Francisco and the missions of California. The symphonies have their first recording by Naxos for their American Classics series. Although the playing is a bit rough at times, the orchestra approaches the symphonies with a lot of spirit, and overall the results are impressive. The music tends to be like Howard Hanson and Paul Creston in style and will not disappoint anyone who is familiar with either composer. I can say that I not only have this recording but also give it as a gift.
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Yes, I didn't know either that Meredith Wilson had turned to the Symphonic Format, albeit with a 20th century spin, as well has having turned out "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" and the unique "The Music Man." But then again only a superb composer could have given us that last score. So right away, this Naxos offering has its interesting side. His <Symphony No. 1> is subtitled "A Symphony of San Francisco" and does not quite do for that city in four movements what Gershwin did for Paris or Coates and Vaughan Williams for London; but the feeling is there, although without knowing the "program," one would never guess it. <Symphony No. 2> is more melodic, as one would anticipate from its subtitle, "The Missions of California>. Although I feel this material would better have been handled in a non-symphonic Respighian way, it is just fine on its own terms. Having no other versions with which to compare, I sense that the Moscow Symphony Orchestra is not quite the group for the first offering, but perfectly adequate for the second. Still in all, an unusual Naxos presentation and most welcome.
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I ordered this CD without any information but also without hesitation. I have listened several times and it is music I am going to enjoy for many years. I love the idea of programme music in areas that we all know and love. Bravo to Naxos and the Moscow Symphony (to typical that an American Symphony Orchestra hasn't found it) in delivering new discoveries to us....especially those of us in the USA Craig
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It was probably not an objective of conductor William T. Stromberg to manifest an essential Russian late serf-period flavour within Willson's Americana symphonic compositions, performed here by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, but it's clearly present! Meredith Willson was, in fact, the poster representation of an American composer, (Born Robert Meredith Reiniger, 1902-1984), who also worked as a playwright. So, right away, we have here a unique interpretation and presentation of two great symphonies.

Beyond that, the music on this CD can be termed "extremely interesting" at a minimum, and certain facets of the two symphonies are quite brilliantly conceived. The Willson composition that I recall hearing (ad nauseum) most clearly from my youth is the vibrant tune, "Seventy-six Trombones," (penned in 1957, not included on this CD), a song that I never cared for in the slightest. Had I known ahead of time that he composed that particular piece, I probably would have deprived myself of this fine album out of pure stupid spite - but nothing in here reeks even vaguely of "Seventy-six Trombones".

Each of these two symphonies shares certain commonalities: they both represent the age of Modern Music. Additionally, they each clearly manifest "Program Music". Finally, both symphonies are entirely instrumental.

In Willson's "Symphony No. 1 in F minor, 'A Symphony of San Francisco'," (circa 1936, 38:35 in length), the work was written to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Great San Francisco Earthquake, (which occurred in 1906); however, I ignored that historic premise as I listened to the music because I wanted to provide information about what it actually sounded like to me, instead of what it was supposed to represent programmatically.
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