Thursday, October 3, 2013

Two More American "Thirds"

Cover design by Robert Selnick
I've written in the past about the phenomenon of the Great American Third Symphony, particularly in respect to Copland and Roy Harris, and here on this LP are two more contenders. I confess that I had never heard any of the music of Wallingford Riegger (1885-1961) before I found this record. What little I knew about him - that his mature style was essentially atonal - didn't make me eager to seek him out. I've never particularly cared for atonality, and all the atonal works I like - such as Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire and Serenade, and most of Alban Berg's music - I like resolutely in spite of the atonality. Well, I was quite blown away by Riegger's Third Symphony, an atonal work with freshness and great rhythmic vitality, and I'm sorry I took so long to make Riegger's acquaintance. It's astonishing to me that this great symphony has never received a recording subsequent to this Naumberg Foundation-funded one of 1952:

Wallingford Riegger: Symphony No. 3, Op. 42
Eastman-Rochester Symphony Orchestra conducted by Howard Hanson
Recorded April 30, 1952
Side 1 of Columbia Masterworks ML-4902, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 71.62 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 44.13 MB)

Quite unusual repertoire, too, for Howard Hanson to conduct - he tended to favor more conservative styles among his numerous recordings of American works. But his advocacy for Riegger is quite persuasive in this, one of his few Columbia recordings with the Eastman orchestra. By the time it was released in 1955, he was already a fixture at Mercury, and I suspect that the issue was delayed because there was nothing else "in the can" conducted by Hanson to pair it with. The Mennin symphony, conducted by Mitropoulos, was recorded two years later:

Peter Mennin: Symphony No. 3 (1946)
New York Philharmonic conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos
Recorded February 1, 1954
Side 2 of Columbia Masterworks ML-4902, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 63.24 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 38.04 MB)

I'm sorry to say that I can't summon as much enthusiasm for this work as for the Riegger, although I recognize the importance of Peter Mennin (1923-1989) as a symphonist (he was another in that long list of those who wrote nine, although I think he suppressed the first one). But I hear too many echoes of Vaughan Williams' inimitable Fourth Symphony in Mennin's first movement for comfort. Still, it's good solid music, quite impressive for a 23-year-old youngster, and of course it gets a superb performance from Mitropoulos and his orchestra.

Both of these recordings were reissued around 1970 by Composers Recordings, Inc., but unfortunately with fake stereo effect added. I would hope that they removed this for the CD reissues they made, but it's a moot point in any case, since CRI went bankrupt some ten years ago.


  1. Thanks, Bryan - I've never seen this one before.

  2. Thanks, Bryan - This is a very good transfer. (I bought this LP about 50 years ago & still have it in my collection.)
    BTW, the CRI CD reissues are still available from ArkivMusic. (They burn them to order on CD-Rs.) I have the Peter Mennin CD from CRI and I don't hear any fake stereo effect. I compared the CD with your transfer & they sound very much the same to me.

  3. Many thanks for this. More of this vintage American symphonic recording would be very welcome.
    Ray Pratt
    Bozeman, MT

  4. Thanks Bryan, looking forward to listening to this. If the Riegger proves enjoyable (Like you I have a problem with what I like to call 'Nasty Atonal Trash') I may contact Naxos suggest they add Riegger to their American Classics series.

  5. Excellent performances; most enjoyable music - and a really good transfer!