Irving Gifford Fine (1914-1962) was an American composer. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Fine studied with Walter Piston at Harvard earning Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. He studied conducting with Serge Koussevitsky and composition with Nadia Boulanger. At the time of his death at age 47 he completed only a handful of works for orchestra, chorus and various chamber ensemble and solo works. But what he lacked in quantity did not lack in quality. The Irving Fine Society maintains a very useful web page which can be found here.
Fine is sometimes identified with a sort of loose knit group of composers called the Boston School which included Fine along with Arthur Berger, Lukas Foss, Alexei Haieff, Harold Shapero and Claudio Spies. He taught at Brandeis University which now has an endowed chair named in his honor. Eric Chasalow currently holds this position.
Curiously his music, which has a generally very friendly neoclassical feel to it, even when he dabbles in twelve tone writing, has received relatively few performances and even fewer recordings. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project under the inspired guidance of Gil Rose has stepped in to fill a bit of that void in this very welcome and vital addition to Fine’s discography.
This recording of Fine’s complete orchestral music spans his entire musical career with his Symphony being his last completed work from 1962, the year of his death. Also included are the 1947 Toccata Concertante, Notturno for Strings and Harp (1951), Serious Song (1955) for string orchestra, Blue Towers (1959), Diversions for Orchestra (1960) and Symphony (1962).
All have been recorded before but the Symphony was a release of a live performance by Erich Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony from 1962 so this is the first studio recording. The Notturno for Strings and Harp and the Serious Song have received a couple of recordings. And interested listeners would be advised to locate a recording of Fine’s String Quartet (1952) and Fantasia for String Trio (1957) which I believe to be sort of hidden masterpieces. Any string quartets out there willing to take on these neglected works?
As usual the BMOP under Gil Rose turn in fantastic performances. Blue Cathedral and Diversions are among the composer’s lighter fare but deserve at least occasional attention. But the Toccata, Serious Song and Notturno should be a part of the repertoire with regular performances. They are masterful and pretty audience friendly.
The big treat here is the Symphony. As far as I can tell it has not been programmed, much less, recorded, since the Boston Symphony did it under Leinsdorf. What a shame that this work hasn’t been heard for so long and how wonderful it is to have this great new recording of an American masterpiece. Cast in three movements (Intrada, Capriccio and Ode) this 20 minute work is one of the composer’s finest pieces and leaves the listener wondering what other works he might have crafted had he lived longer.