ANTHEIL:  Symphony No. 4 '1942'.  Symphony No. 6.  McKonkey's Ferry (Washington at Trenton).
National Symphony Orch. of  Ukraine/Theodore Kuchar, cond.

NAXOS 8.559033 (B) TT: 67:43


This is a major recording as it gives collectors the opportunity to hear two Antheil scores never before recorded, the Symphony No. 6 and the concert overture McKonkey's Ferry (Washington at Trenton).  The other work, Symphony No. 4, was recorded  in the late '50s by the London Symphony directed by Sir Eugene Goossens, available in a fine remastering on Everest (EVC 9039).  All of this music is far removed from the scandalous Ballet Méchanique premiered in 1926, with its massive percussion, siren, ten player-pianos and airplane propeller.

Symphony No. 4 was composed on the West Coast when Antheil was a reporter in charge of war-analysis. He admits that sounds of war are to be heard in his 32-minute symphony,  written in 1942.  With its frequent march episodes, Antheil's music often is reminiscent of Shostakovich, particularly in the first movement, which contains rhythmic episodes that could just as well have been in Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony. The third movement scherzo sounds suspiciously like the scherzo of the Russian composer's Symphony No. 5, composed five years earlier.  However, if you are going to "borrow" music from another composer, why not take from the best?  In his autobiography, Bad Boy of Music, Antheil tells of his friendship with Leopold Stokowski, how he left the Fourth Symphony score with him,  and with a few hours heard  from the Maestro saying  he wanted to do the  premiere.  It turned out  this rather dissonant work was a major factor in Stokowski's contract with NBC not being renewed the following year (although Schoenberg's Piano Concerto  was the major cause of discontent).   Symphony No. 4 had its premiere on a nationwide NBC Symphony broadcast February 13, 1944 (see REVIEW).  In his book Antheil describes how he, his wife Boski, and Hedy Lamarr heard the performance over the radio in Laurel Canyon where they were staying and how pleased they were with the extraordinary performance.  The first concert performance took place the following year with Hans Kindler and the Washington National Symphony.

Symphony No. 6 was premiered by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra February 10, 1948.  Antheil again quotes from other composers; Prokofiev often is evident, as is a brief touch of  The Battle Cry of Freedom.  There are typical Antheil march patterns in the opening and closing of the three movements, with a refective, calm slow movement separating the two.  However, in this symphony the marches are jubilant, in contrast to those in Symphony No. 4.

Antheil wrote a series of concert overtures for orchestra in the late '40s; McKonkey's Ferry, composed in 1948, is one of these, inspired by the image of George Washington crossing the Delaware on Christmas night, 1776 --  hardly suggested in the  9-minute overture, which  is Antheil at his  boisterous best.

The Ukraine National Symphony directed by Theodore Kuchar provides admirable performances.  This is very difficult music, particularly for brass. One might hope for thicker string textures, but anyone interested in this music will surely not be disappointed by the interpretations heard here.  Naxos' sonic quality is excellent, although a touch more resonance might have made string tone richer.   A major issue in the label's American Classics series. 

 Antheil enthusiasts surely also will wish to have the Everest version of Symphony No. 4, as well as the Centaur release of Symphony No. 5 (reviewed on this site).  Of course, don't overlook Antheil's ballet Capital of the World (also reviewed on this site).   Naxos -- let us have more previously unrecorded Antheil!