THOMSON: The Plow that Broke the Plains; The River

The musical
pleasures come from both the re-recording, sympathetic performances in clean, modern sound,
and the original performances, offered as an optional soundtrack. The sound of the latter can’t
compare to the 2005 recording, but it has a sentimental appeal, in that its qualifications mirror
those of the simple techniques of the black and white film-making.

Furthermore, Naxos has filmed some bonus features, mostly interviews with participants in an
AFI celebration of the films that led to the re-recording. George Stoney and Charles Fussell
speak with authority and humor about their experiences with the films. In audio-only composer
Thomson speaks, in an interview, about his compositions. Finally Naxos offers the original
endings for both films, clips of about 3 minutes that don’t offer any big revelations but will
please cinematic completists.

The films themselves, while dated in style, bring important segments of American history into
sharp focus swiftly and simply. The Plow that Broke the Plains feels like a wise ancestor of An
Inconvenient Truth
, with its narrative of human development leading to the Dust Bowl crisis. The
, conversely, celebrates the advances of man that tamed nature in ways designed to benefit
our society — watching the film clips of levee-building, however, leads inexorably to memories
of nature having the last word with Hurricane Katrina.

The films themselves total under 60 minutes, with the bonus features doubling the length. The
booklet, in English only, has a substantial essay by Joseph Horowitz, Artistic Director of the
post-Classical Ensemble, a note from Gil-Ordóñez on some textual issues with the score, and
brief biographies of key participants.

The films, let alone the bonus features, may not demand repeat viewings, but Naxos still deserves
thanks for both the quality re-recordings of Thomson’s scores and the reminder of the context in
which they first were heard.

Chris Mullins

image_description=Virgil Thomson: The Plow that Broke the Plains; The River
product_title=Virgil Thomson: The Plow that Broke the Plains; The River
product_by=Post-Classical Ensemble, Angel Gil-OrdÛÒez (music director), Joseph Horowitz (artistic director), Floyd King (narrator), Pare Lorentz (film director).
product_id=Naxos 2.110521 [DVD]