Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dean Dixon conducts symphonies by Cowell and Piston

Two years ago, I had the pleasure of posting the original 10 inch ARS of Dean Dixon conducting Walter Piston's Symphony No 2. Good fortune has shined down on me as I recently found the "reissue" of that recording coupled with Dixon's strong reading of Henry Cowell's Symphony No 5 on an ARS full play album.

As I mentioned in previous posts, Dixon was a unique and gifted talent but, because of the period in which he was active, his native American audience would never fully come to appreciate the gifts of this highly principled, sensitive and intelligent man. Known and respected throughout Europe, where he settled during the 1950's, Dixon as a conductor was as comfortable in Mendelssohn as he was in music by Walter Piston or Henry Cowell. Astonishing for me is how he was able to achieve such an idiomatic sound from Viennese musiciansfor these recordings. The offbeat folksiness of Cowell and somewhat spikey New England sound  of Piston shine through without a forced or agitated manner. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that that under Dixon, these Austrian musicians sound like they are actually enjoying these two unfamiliar pieces which had no real place in their repertoire.

It is disappointing that Henry Cowell's star has diminished over the years. He had a great way of balancing modern techniques against the simple folk rhythms that formed the base of his creative style. I don't think him far removed from Virgil Thomson though oddly, Thomson has fared well though he was, in my opinion, not as original, or interesting, as Cowell.

I'm really glad that I found this very clean lp. Great introduction to mid 20th century American music.