HERBERT:  Columbus Suite.  Irish Rhapsody.  Auditorium Festival March.  Excerpts from Natoma.
Slovak Radio Symphony Orch/Keith Brion, cond.
NAXOS 8.559027  (B) (DDD)  TT:  67:13

Here's an opportunity to hear two works of Victor Herbert (1850-1924) that apparently are receiving their first recordings.  The familiar Irish Rhapsody, a pastiche of Irish songs and dances from the composer's native land, is immediately appealing.  After the premiere in 1892 one critic proclaimed Herbert as "The Irish Wagner," surely an incredible overstatement.  A 15-minute orchestral suite of selections from his opera Natoma, based on "fragments" of American Indian themes, staged at the Metropolitan Opera in 1911, shows why the opera has fallen into neglect. Aside from the familiar "Dagger Dance," little is memorable -- and it would have been helpful If the CD had listed titles of the various sections included.

Auditorium Festival March was written for the Pittsburgh Symphony, of which Herbert was conductor, to play in Chicago when the orchestra was on tour.  The presenter, the Chicago Symphony, felt the concert needed something special and requested a new "popular" piece, resulting in the March.  It is rather commonplace, its main distinction being inclusion of Auld Lang Syne. The principle interest on this CD is Columbus Suite, Herbert's last major work. Originally it was intended for use at the Chicago World Fair of 1893 which celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus's voyage. Both Herbert and Dvorak were commissioned to write music for the planned "spectacular" presentation that was to have included Columbus's ship sailing across a sea of mechanical waves.  Funding faltered, but Herbert finished his score, which he called Vision of Columbus. Later he added three other movements calling it the Columbus Suite, which had its premiere in 1902.  The first movement is "Dawn and Sunrise at Alhambra," an image of the Moorish castle; the second is "At the Convent," a serene, reflective movement with scoring that includes an organ.  Third is "Murmurs of the Sea," a  very quiet  sea indeed, leading right into "The Triumph of Columbus," depicting stormy seas and a victorious nautical procession.  It is reported that when the World Fair project was cancelled, Dvorak used material he had collected for his contribution was later used in his "New World Symphony."

With the exception of Irish Rhapsody, music heard here is not the composer's best, but a welcome addition to the CD catalog.  Performances are enthusiastic and well-played; sonic quality typical of Naxos' recent fine achievements.

R.E.B. (May 2000)