George Antheil, once the “bad boy of music”, was famous for his Ballet Méchanique, a futuristic Satie-esque piece. For me, his greatest claim to fame will always be his scientific collaboration with screen siren Hedy Lamarr on a weapons system to protect Allied shipping from torpedoes. He’s often spoken of as someone who failed to live up to youthful promise. Whatever! I enjoyed this recording of his Fourth and Fifth Symphonies composed in 1944 and 1948 respectively.
The Gramophone review remarked on the harshness of some the Fourth’s passages but they’re not as brutal as Prokofiev’s Second and Third Symphonies to my ears. It is, predictably, darkly ominous and the “borrowings” from Shostakovich’s Leningrad are pretty blatant (Antheil claimed his was written first), with a militaristic opening, a second movement threnody to the victims of the Nazis in Lidice and Poland, a sardonic Scherzo (again very much in the vein of Shostakovich in his most Mahlerian mood) and an ebullient finale. Much of it is quite lyrical.
The post-war Fifth is understandably more optimistic, almost folksy and naively buoyant – at times it reminded me of Leroy Anderson in his Norman Rockwell mode, at others it’s suffused with a Slavic yearning, with the occasional frisson of Bernard Herrmann. The appetiser is Over the Plains, whose ending sounds like a parody of Mahler’s Seventh of all things. Storgårds and the BBC Phil do
this never less than fascinating music proud.