These tonal symphonies range through three strains of 20th-century American music: Piston’s neat Neoclassicism, Samuel Jones’s post-Impressionist ‘Americana’ and Stephen Albert’s work, closer to post-war Expressionist symphonists like Peter Mennin. Generalisations aside, all three bring individual voices to their work.
Walter Piston (1894-1976) came from an Italian immigrant background. Beneath his clear textures and classic structures lurks an Italianate lyricism. Orchestration is assured; indeed, he wrote a textbook on the subject. Of his eight symphonies, No 6 is the most popular, composed for Munch and the Boston Symphony in 1955 and recorded by RCA. This is the fourth recording since then. The featherweight Scherzo is the most memorable movement, stunningly played here by the LSO. The precision of their woodwinds is remarkable.
Samuel Jones is an unknown name to me. His 1992 Third Symphony is a musical depiction of Palo Duro Canyon in Texas, opening with a recording of wind sweeping across the Texan plains. His writing for orchestra is expert.
Finally, Stephen Albert’s powerful Second Symphony (its solemn brass chorales beautifully balanced here) reveals the promise of a born symphonist. Unhappily, Albert died in a car accident just as he was completing the piece. Lance Friedel knows the music well, and this great orchestra sounds immaculate in BIS’s spacious sound.