- Symphony "X" ("The Big D")
- Tulsa: A Symphonic Portrait in Oil
- Symphony No. 3 "A Symphony of Free Men"
The career of Texas-to-New York-to-Texas transplant Don Gillis, a protégé of no less than Arturo Toscanini, would seem ripe for rediscovery in this age of neo-tonalism. This disc perhaps presupposes too much knowledge of a composer who has been largely forgotten -- it omits his best-known work, the "Symphony No. 5 ½" ("A Symphony for Fun," which is included on a different release in the same series on the Albany Troy contemporary music label), and it includes a work Gillis himself rejected, the rather meandering "Symphony No. 3: A Symphony for Free Men." It's still an entertaining introduction to a composer whom the booklet notes call "a cowboy-country Neil Simon of the concert hall." Actually the influences are not so much country (although there is a dash of Copland's "Hoedown" idiom, as well as numerous imprints of his music in general) as pop-symphonic, band music, and, to a degree, jazz. The music is nationalistic in a Fourth-of-July-under-the-stars way, but it makes room for a distinctive sense of humor -- hear the waltz of the slightly lurching "Conventioneer" in the third movement of the "Symphony X: Big D" of 1968. Not so successful is the "Requiem" movement of the same work, surely intended as a tribute to John F. Kennedy but managing only a weak pastoral idiom. Gillis was popular enough at the time to compete for magazine space with what one reviewer aptly called "laboratory composers," and his apt percussion orchestration in "Tulsa: A Symphonic Portrait in Oil" (1950) makes it easy to see why -- the oil "gusher" that is struck in the course of the piece could have been irredeemably hokey but is not. The Sinfonia Varsovia under Ian Hobson plays as though it had been hanging out on the Great Plains its entire life, and it makes a case for the rediscovery of Gillis, even if not perhaps with these precise works -- he wrote more than 150 compositions, including 11 symphonies, in all.