Randall Thompson, Symphony no. 2, Samuel Adams "Drift and Providence" and Samuel Barber Symphony No. 1 performed by National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic conducted by James Ross (Naxos)
Charles Ives' "Three Places in New England," "Orchestral Set. No. 2" and "New England Holidays" performed by Seattle Symphony conducted by Ludovic Morlot (Seattle Symphony)
Two first-rate July 4 celebrations of the American symphonic tradition on record. The relative surprise is the Thompson/Barber disc on Naxos in which James Ross conducts an ad hoc orchestra consisting of music students and tyros. Thompson's Second is a terrific American symphony and their performance of it is strong. But the making of the disc is what I consider the finest recording of Samuel Barber's great First Symphony that I've ever heard. This is not what one expects from an orchestra of musicians on the apprentice level.
More predictable but still close to stupendous is the Seattle Symphony's brilliantly programmed all-Ives record, with "Three Places in New England" and four pieces called together "New England Holidays" bracketing a performance of the more experimental "Orchestral Set no. 2." The primordial spirit of Ives' music is so dark, mysterious, mystic and unlike what we generally consider the boisterous optimistic American symphonic tradition (Copland and, yes, Thompson and Barber) that he will always be the most necessary of all American composers for Independence Day. The Seattle Orchestra and Ludovic are inspirational in their reading of him.
4 stars (out of four) for Thompson, Adams and Barber
3 1/2 stars (out of four) for Ives