Chandos Records has just released a collection of compositions by the neglected American composer George Antheil.

An iconoclast who lived and wrote in the Berlin and Paris of the 20’s and 30’s before returning to America in 1933, Antheil gradually and cleverly re-fashioned himself from his former self as a cutting-edge enfant terrible, into a working composer, journalist, inventor, and musical entrepreneur. Antheil wrote for Hollywood and eventually for television, enticing the likes of Monteux and Stokowski and Ormandy to validate and conduct his compositions.

Antheil’s music is terrific Pops material. It is also good movie music. His Archipelago is nothing but six minutes of fun that features a Cuban rumba on musical steroids – nothing that any of my extended family would have ever danced to, but more like a good-natured caricature of a sultry Havana night in a dance hall as seen and musically interpreted by a talented tourist with an ear and eye for syncopation and below-the-waist swaying.

The BBC Philharmonic musicians exuberantly dive into this music led by the Finn John Storgårds with splendid results. Hot-Time Dance is another short ditty, descriptive of a bunch of kids raising Cain and dancing around a campfire.

Both Antheil’s Symphony no. 3, “American” and his Symphony no. 6, “after Delacroix” are fertile grounds for inventiveness and resourceful orchestration. Antheil’s use of thematic material shuns the exposition-development-recapitulation of much of Western Classical Music, opting instead for a cumulative, more-is-more pileup  of melodic and rhythmic snippets that create a rich sonic landscape in which disorientation is put to effective use. Oh and he can spin a soulful melody anytime in the slow movements.

The Spectre of the Rose Waltz was written for a 1946 Ben Hecht film noir, and is given here an elegant reading by Storgårds and his Brits.

Storgårds, principal conductor of Finland’s Lapland Symphony Orchestra, and an artist whom we would like to see more in America, mines the music in this CD for all its worth, making Antheil’s works sing and dance and often careen madly while never losing control of the proceedings.

The BBC Philharmonic gets a bit of a workout throughout it, all the while evidencing what a fine orchestra it is.

As usual with Chandos the engineering by Mike George, Stephen Rinker, Carwyn Griffith and Pihilip Halliwell is first class, and the program notes by Mervyn Cooke are learned and apposite. Ralph Couzens is the Executive producer and the mastermind behind this wonderful addition to any collector’s library.

Rafael de Acha