The Chicago-based record label Cedille has issued many fine recordings of works by American composers. It has paid special attention to Leo Sowerby, who was the Chicago Symphony's "de facto composer-in-residence" during the during the tenure of conductor Frederick Stock. A collection of American works for organ and orchestra by Barber, Piston, Sowerby, and Colgrass American Works for Organ and Orchestra and the only recording of Sowerby's Symphony No. 2 Leo Sowerby: Symphony No. 2 deserve particular mention.
This disc contains two premiere recordings--William Schuman's "A Free Song" and Sowerby's "The Canticle of the Sun." The Schuman piece, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1943, sets two excerpts from Walt Whitman's "Drum Taps." Whitman texts always seem to bring out the best in composers--Vaughan Williams ("A Sea Symphony"), Hindemith ("When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd"), Delius ("Sea Drift"), Hanson ("Song of Democracy"), and many more. "Drum Taps" is no exception. The work's Civil War poetry carried renewed resonance in the midst of World War II, and its optimism speaks to us today in a time of economic difficulty.
Sowerby's "Canticle," Pulitzer winner in 1946, is based on Matthew Arnold's translation of a poem by St. Francis of Assisi. Hugh Ross, director of the Schola Cantorum in the work's New York premiere, wrote that the composer has made "a panorama of all the elements of heaven and earth which join in praising their creator, and it unfolds in a series of tonal pictures, each motivated by the phrase it describes."
The third and final work on this recording is Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring," which won the Pulitzer in 1945. Although the Copland receives a fine performance from Carlos Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra, most music lovers will buy the disc for the Schuman and Sowerby. It is essential listening for fans of 20th century American music.