Ferde Grofé is best known as the composer of
the Grand Canyon Suite. So this compilation of equally evocative,
yet less familiar music is most welcome particularly in such energetic,
vibrant readings as these by William Stromberg who, through his Classic
Film Score recordings for Naxos's sister company Marco Polo, is no stranger
to film music fans.
Of immediate interest is Grofé's Hollywood
Suite. This is ballet music, performed by a large orchestra, tracing
the production of a typical Hollywood musical; the heroine is the stand-in
with the real talent. The star, seen only in close-up, gets the adoration,
while the stand-in does all the hard work. She goes home forgotten as
the cleaners sweep the studio floor ready for tomorrow's takes. The
suite is presented in six movements. The first is entitled, 'On the
set – Sweepers' with the sweeper (cue: sand block) in the morning preparing
the empty sound stage 'unconcerned as the swinging pendulum of a clock'.
The orchestration not only literally captures this sweeping but it also
intimates through its brassy, jazzy abrasiveness, the false glitzy world
of Hollywood, that the understudy/double/stand-in has entered. She remains
attracted by its glamour, tamed by her hunger for success and still
hopeful as her innocent, dreamy music for 'The Stand-In' plainly shows.
The mood is brought down to earth with the mercurial 'Carpenters and
Electricians' as they scurry around the set to scatty fanfares and skittish
xylophone figures. 'The Preview' is all sophisticated gloss, the sort
of fluffy music Waxman or Steiner would have scored for a romantic comedy.
'Production Number' is just that, the sort of dance routine one associates
with any Hollywood musical, glamorous, scintillating; just listen to
those tap-dancing feet. The final movement, Director- Star-Ensemble
has all the grandiose portent, the sweeping romanticism of all those
big Golden Age scores: heroic, romantic brass, cascading strings – sheer
razzmatazz. This suite really leaves you breathless with admiration
– a huge nostalgic wallow. Grofé's Hollywood Suite very
enthusiastically played by the Bournemouth SO is worth double the price
of this album alone.
And yet there is more! The Hudson River Suite
is another wonder from the magic colourful pen of this American composer
of the musical travelogues. The opening movement, 'The River' is a fond,
almost patriotically fervent evocation of the lower reaches of the Hudson
River taking in its "broad, sweeping majestic flow before it reaches
the Atlantic taking in the colourful cliffs and woodlands of the palisades
along its shores." The second movement, in heroic mould, 'Henry
Hudson' is a musical portrait of the renowned explorer. 'Rip Van Winkle'
is one of Grofé's musical pantomimes/caricatures. You hear Rip's
dog barking (literally) as Rip whistles for him. You meet the dwarves
playing nine-pins with the rolling of their balls sounding like thunder.
Rip's twenty years slumber follows after he joins in their festivities.
'Albany Night Boat' reflects the moonlight night aboard the boat. As
it glides smoothly over the waters, a small jazz band, on deck, begins
to play romantically, nostalgically, and upbeat amid laughter and dancing.
The concluding movement, 'New York,' brings commotion and excitement,
the turbulence of heavy traffic and big business. A proud, unconquerable
'Death Valley Suite' is another extraordinarily realistic
sound portrait. Death Valley, a bleak and beautiful wilderness, is located
largely in Southern California. The first movement 'Funeral Mountains'
is painted in shimmering tones that reflect the heat haze and the region's
desolate grandeur taking in both the merciless rays of high noon and
the purple shades of night. In '49er Emigrant Train' you hear the crack
of the whips the pleading, protesting neighing of the horses, the creaking
of dried axles and the scraping of the wagon wheels as the settlers
toil over this hostile landscape, then come the injuns!! Yet
in spite of all these difficulties, the indomitable spirit of the pioneers
urges them onwards. In 'Desert Water Hole', they are exhausted and parched,
suddenly the oxen smell water; and animals, men and women, dash for
the waterhole. Everybody celebrates enthusiastically – all this is vividly
realised in Grofé's rousing music. But yet another crisis looms
– a 'Sand Storm'. Grofé's wind machine, surging strings and rattles
spin and spiral the sand to engulf the pioneers yet they emerge triumphant,
stronger for their ordeal to build a new civilisation in the wilderness.
Magnificent over-the-top; but hugely enjoyable, vividly
descriptive music played with all the stops out by film music conductor
Stromberg and recorded in some of the best Naxos sound I have yet heard.
Don't hesitate, buy it before it sells out!
Kevin Sutton has also listened to this recording:
Most famous for his Grand Canyon Suite, Ferde
Grofé enjoyed a long career writing film music, and descriptive
orchestral suites depicting American life. His association with Paul
Whiteman, with whose orchestra he played during the 1920s, catapulted
his rise to fame. Through Whiteman, he met George Gershwin, and his
orchestrations of Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris
secured him a permanent place in professional musical life.
The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra give us fine readings
of three of Grofé’s lesser-known suites for orchestra. The Hollywood
Suite is delightful, and Grofé captures the golden age of
pictures quite vividly in his musical descriptions of stagehands, opening
nights and crewmen.
On the whole, this is an entertaining disc. These scores
are really more suited for pops concerts, and are best sampled one at
a time, perhaps. Although they are excellent musical portraits, one
can’t help but feel that this is concertized film music, and as such,
it doesn’t wear well for a full hour. That is not to detract in any
way, however, from the quality of these performances. Maestro Stromberg
leads excellent performances here, and the sound quality is first rate.
I cannot say that there is anything here that is profound
or earth-shattering on this recording. Just an hour of pleasant music
that is very well performed. Particularly recommended to fans of film