Impressive Thompson and Barber Symphonies

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

The National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic is a temporary ensemble formed by participants in the eponymous program at the University of Maryland. On evidence here, they are quite a talented bunch. The wildly syncopated rhythms of the Thompson symphony’s first movement hold no terrors for them at all, while under conductor James Ross’ capable leadership the closing pages of the Barber symphony build to a truly powerful and gripping climax.

It’s also great to see these two symphonies receiving new recordings. Neither has appeared on disc for a while. The Barber has always been well-respected, but the Thompson too is a very fine work, immaculately crafted, and personal in style. It deserves more attention than it gets. Leonard Bernstein likened the slow movement to music by Perry Como, but not in a disparaging way. Rather, he was making a point about legitimately American musical styles, and with the benefit of hindsight we can see just how correct he was.

Samuel Adams’ Drift and Providence is yet another piece of generic modern music with a title that’s more interesting than the actual sounds it makes. It’s mostly texture, often colorful and pleasant enough, with some electronic gimmicks thrown in. If it doesn’t add up to anything memorable, it certainly gives no offense, and like everything on this program it’s played with impressive confidence by the ensemble. Naxos’ engineering is mostly quite good–there’s some ambient noise towards the end of the Barber, but it’s very minor. An attractive release, for sure.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Thompson: Bernstein (Sony); Barber: Slatkin (RCA)

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