William Henry Fry (1813-64) was the first native-born American to write for large orchestral forces (and the first to compose a grand opera), and was a vociferous supporter of music home-grown in the good old U.S.A. That's not to say Fry's music didn't contain European influences: traces of Berlioz, Wagner, and Verdi all show up in his work; but he also manages to include elements of (then) American popular song. For example, the Santa Claus Symphony of 1853 (really more of an extended symphonic poem) features "Rock-a-bye Baby" played on a soprano saxophone. Actually, Santa Claus makes only a brief appearance in this narrative-derived piece, which among other things depicts a lost traveler dying in a snowstorm and the birth of the Savior, before ending with the strings intoning "O come, all ye faithful". Fry's orchestral writing is vividly picturesque, with much imagination lavished on the score's fantasy elements.
An even more graphic portrayal can be found in the 1854 Niagara Symphony, which after a rumbling introduction roars out a big unison theme that mimics the Tuba mirum from Mozart's Requiem. The Overture to Macbeth (1864) contains some pretty exciting passages as well, and here's where the Berlioz influence is particularly strong (especially in the witches' music). Lastly, Fry's The Breaking Heart (a work once believed to be lost) shows his love for Italian bel canto in its many lyrical and "operatic" passages. All told, this is a highly compelling album of some first-rate 19th century orchestral music, enthusiastically and stylishly performed by Tony Rowe and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and recorded in top-drawer sound--another winner in Naxos' spectacular American Classics series. 10\10