Morton Gould was something of an interesting figure. He enjoyed a background in classical traditions, popular music, Broadway and jazz, and was an arranger and conductor as much as a composer. The music on the disc at hand presents his arrangements and compositions based on patriotic themes, folk music and the music of Stephen Foster, and many - if not most - of the tunes you hear on this disc will be familiar. What is striking is Gould's cleverness and ingenuity in arranging and orchestrating these themes, and the result is a spectacle of color, atmosphere and joy, an unforgettable if not particularly profound experience.
American Ballads comprises six sections, each based on patriotic themes that Gould treats with imagination and skill. Nothing profound here, but lots of brilliant fun - and despite the patriotic nature of the themes nothing comes across as banal (though the work is a paean to the American spirit and American culture in all its facets and certainly not an ironic work). Foster Gallery is based on a series of Foster's most familiar tunes, and once again it is a masterly creation. The short American Salute, based on Johnnie Comes Marching Home, is similarly brilliant, buoyant and glorious.
Throughout Gould's ability to color the themes is absolutely astonishing, and despite the familiarity of most of the thematic material everything comes across as fresh and spirited. This is, however, not the least due to the superb performances by what must be counted as a surprising source - the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine under Theodor Kuchar. You would never guess that the performers weren't steeped in American culture and spirit, however - everything about these performances is first-rate, and the Naxos sound quality is excellent. Strongly recommended.