June 29, 2011
"The Pulitzer Project: Works by Schuman, Sowerby and Copland" (Cedille)
The Pulitzer Prize for music has always meant more for its prestige than its ability to inspire performances. This recording by the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus of Chicago, conducted by Carlos Kalmar, is of three very American works that won the prize in the 1940s. Believe it or not, two of them are appearing on disc for the first time. But better late than never and just in time for the Fourth of July.
The music prize was established in 1943, and the first went to William Schuman’s “A Free Song,” a setting of Walt Whitman. It is moving and inspiring music for a time of war, and, while slightly dated, undeservedly neglected. The 1945 winner was Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” an American classic that needs no vindication, but the complete ballet here is given in the original 13-instrument version that isn’t often heard and remains fresh as ever.
In Leo Sowerby’s “The Canticle of the Sun,” which took the 1946 prize, St. Francis of Assisi’s text is perhaps inflated in this big work for chorus and orchestra. But the war was over, and Americans were thinking big. The performances are first rate and the recorded sound is spectacular.