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A Thomson Sampler

By Jamake Highwater / July 19, 1990



ERIK SATIE was the father of French musical modernism, and his eccentric works had a strong influence on the young Virgil Thomson. An elegant collection of Satie's orchestral and vocal works is available in ``Les inspiratiuons insolites,'' a two compact-disc set from Angel/EMI (CDZB 6277). Virgil Thomson is not well represented on compact disc. The most important recording to date is probably the 1981 production of the opera ``Four Saints in Three Acts'' with a libretto by Gertrude Stein, outstanding for its concise and imaginative conducting by Joel Thome and for its excellent cast. (A 2 CD set, Electra/Nonesuch 9 79035-2.)

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``The Mother of Us All'' is another opera collaboration between Thomson and Stein. This opus is built on the life of feminist Susan B. Anthony. The recording is a production of the Santa Fe Opera with Raymond Leppard conducting. (New World Records, 2 CDs, NWS 288/289-2.)

Most characteristic of Thomson's orchestral music, though far less known than his operas and film scores, are ``Symphony on a Hymn Tune'' and ``Symphony No. 2.'' These two major works are combined with scenes from his lesser-known opera ``Lord Byron'' and with the ``Shipwreck and Love Scene from Byron's Don Juan'' on an Albany Records CD (TROYUI7-2).

A recently released compact disc provides musical portraits of many of Thomson's close friends in Paris and New York that he began composing in 1928, resulting in a total of 147 pieces. ``Portraits and Self Portraits,'' with musicians Anthony Tommasini and Sharan Leventhal, includes 28 of these. (Northeastern Records, Classical Arts NR 240-CD.)

Thomson's two major film scores, ``The Plow That Broke the Plains'' and ``The River'' appear on a compact disc recording by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra conducted by Neville Marriner (Angel Records CDC-47715).