ANTHEIL: A Jazz Symphony, Ballet Méchanique, Second Sonata for Violin, Piano and Drum, String Quartet No. 1
New Palais Royale Orchestra and Percussion Ensemble/Maurice Peress, cond. Mendelssohn String Quartet/Castleman/Hodgkinson Violin & Piano Duo/Ivan Davis, pianist/Rex Lawson, pianolist
MusicMasters 67094 (F) (DDD) TT: 60:46 (THIS CD HAS BEEN DELETED)

On May 29, 1913, Stravinsky's ballet Rite of Spring had its premiere at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, an event that shocked the musical world and incited vituperative audience reaction almost to the point of a riot. Rite was not the only work to inspire French frenzy; 13 years later, George Antheil's Ballet Méchanique created the same effect, and for good reason. Its bold splashes of dissonance, prolonged silences, and use of an aeroplane propeller and siren stunned audiences of the time - and later audiences, too. The premiere was widely written about at the time, but the music fell into oblivion until a revised version by the composer in 1952--much tamed and toned-down, was recorded by Columbia.

Now collectors have the opportunity to hear Ballet Méchanique as it originally sounded thanks to the efforts of Maurice Peress, who obtained the original score and, in Carnegie Hall on July 12, 1989, recreated the 1927 American premiere. Fortunately this was recorded shortly afterwards in studio sessions. With modern technology it was possible to recreate Antheil's original concepts, including eleven pitched electric bells, 16 pianos attached to one set of piano rolls, and prerecorded sounds of an aeroplane propeller in three pitch ranges. This 27-minute listening challenge has three sections: Roll One, Roll Two and Roll Three.

For me of even greater interest is A Jazz Symphony, scored for piano solo and jazz band for Paul Whiteman's second "Experiment in Modern Music," but not premiered until that 1927 concert in Carnegie Hall. It is dazzling in its imagination and comic flair, with jazz licks that delight. The disc also contains other works presented at the same 1927 concert: String Quartet No. 1, and Second sonata for Violin, Piano and Drum, as individual in their own way as the major works are.

All performances are exemplary; the New Palais Royale Orchestra and Percussion Ensemble is comprised of the best New York musicians, and Maurice Peress, who is the mastermind behind the entire project, obviously knows and loves Antheil's music. Ivan Davis is featured pianist in Jazz Symphony (obviously having a great time of it), Rex Lawson is the "pianolist" in Ballet Méchanique ; other performers are Castleman/Hodgkinson violin and piano duo, and the Mendelssohn String Quartet. Don't miss this CD!

R.E.B. (September 1999)