Kudos to the Nashville Symphony for their commitment to recording American repertoire, and often unjustly-neglected repertoire at that. This 2-disc set contains several rare gems from American composers of the 20th century--all with the subject of Abraham Lincoln.
The only well-known (and obvious) selection is Copland's "Lincoln Portrait". The Nashville Symphony holds its own against any major orchestra in their performance of this work. But what sets it apart is the outstanding narration (and amazing voice) of Barry Scott. You have to hear it for yourself.
The rest of these pieces are virtually unknown, but are well worth having. Among the best is the "Lincoln Legend" by Morton Gould. Written during the emotion-filled days of World War II (from which several of these pieces date), it is a tribute to Lincoln, with episodes suggesting periods in Lincoln's life. One can't imagine a better recording of this work. Similar in form is McKay's "To a Liberator". McKay is a forgotten Seattle composer being rediscovered (thanks to recordings on Naxos). It suggests the feelings and ideals of Lincoln in several different episodes. Especially effective in the choral scene, with the wordless (and excellent) Nashville Symphony Chorus. Paul Turok, is less known for his compositions than for his magazine "Turok's Choice" which contained reviews of classical recordings. His piece is the "Variations on an American Song"--that song being a song used during the Lincoln's presidential campaign. It is a buoyant and well-crafted short piece. One suspects that there is a lot more of Turok that should be recorded.
The short piece by Charles Ives is, well, wacky. (If you can figure out what he was trying to do, let me know.) Another piece with narration is by Vincent Persichetti, a very fine symphonist (but best known for his band pieces). His work contains Lincoln's powerful words from his second inauguration (about the civil war). While much less rousing, and more reflective than the Copland, it is effective in it's own way (and certainly nice to have it on CD). Written during the Vietnam War, the piece certainly drives home the hope for a lasting peace. A chamber piece by Roy Harris (who was obsessed with Lincoln) makes a beautiful change of pace. It makes wonderful use of beautiful transparent textures of its instrumentation--voice and piano trio. Lastly is the suite by Ernst Bacon--pieces originally written as incidental music for a play. Each short movement is evocative of a place or event in the last week of Lincoln's life. The Nashville Symphony turns in an outstanding recording of this piece (with special mention to the cello solo in the beautiful second movement).
You won't find most of these pieces anywhere else. Congratulations to the Nashville Symphony (and their fine recording engineers) for bringing these pieces back into the light.