Dazzling Ballet Music
Jeffrey Lipscomb | Sacramento, CA United States | 05/03/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Unless you are a balletomane - and no, I'm not one either - the three works on this CD will be unfamiliar. Now out of print, this well-transferred mono EMI disc (just about identical to my old Capitol LP) is worth a search in the used bins at your local CD store. Judging from the $50 "1 used & new" asking price here, it has already become a collector's item. I agree with most of Paul Cook's Amazon editorial review, but these ballet scores rank a little differently in my own affections.
"Capital of the World" by George Antheil (1900-1958) is based on a Hemingway story about a young Spanish boy who goes to Madrid with dreams of becoming a famous bullfighter. Virgil Thomson called this work "the most original, striking and powerful American ballet score with which I am acquainted." As with all the works on this CD, Joseph Levine delivers a top-notch reading (slightly abridged), clearly superior to the only recorded competition on a Centaur CD. I think this is one of Antheil's best compositions: it doesn't have the excessive reliance on Prokofiev/Shostakovich imitation that afflicts many of his symphonies.
"Undertow" by William Schuman (1910-1992, probably America's finest symphonist) was described as unfolding "like the confession of a neurotic to a psychiatrist. Its tortured hero, frustrated by his infantile love for his mother, writhes eerily through the ballet, doomed to hate the women who most attract him." My advice: ignore the pretentious plot and just listen to the music. I think it is has finer craftsmanship than the Antheil, and while sometimes dissonant it's always tonal: some of Schuman's finest music.
But my genunine affection for this CD and its LP antecedent lies in "The Combat" by Raffaello de Banfield (born 1927 in England). This is the deeply tragic love story of Tancred and Clorinda, based on a poem about the Crusades by Tasso, the Italian Renaissance poet. This is simply gorgeous music that echoes a bewitching mixture of influences, from Respighi and Ravel to Bartok, Malipiero and even Bernard Herrmann. The only other work I've heard by de Banfield is his one-act opera "Lord Byron's Love Letter," based on a libretto by Tennessee Williams. It's about a poverty-stricken mother and daughter in their crumbling New Orleans mansion. Their only valuable possession left is a letter written by the English poet (which they charge a fee to examine). If you enjoy romantic operas like Barber's "Vanessa" and Puccini's "La Rondine," you'll probably love this one, too. Still quite popular in Italy, it was once available in a 1958 performance by Nicola Rescigno with Astrid Varnay on RCA LP (a rare collector's item). A fine "live" 1991 performance conducted by Gianfranco Masini can be heard on an inexpensive CD (Aura 409).
Highly recommended, especially for de Banfield's "The Combat.""