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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Ferde GROFÉ (1892-1972)
Death Valley Suite (1957) [16.39]
Hudson River Suite (1955) [18.38]
Hollywood Suite (1938) [20.56]
Bournemouth SO/William T Stromberg
re 28-29 Feb 2000, Wessex Hall, Poole Arts Centre, Dorset, UK
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559017 [56.14]


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This is the sequel to Naxos American Classics' first volume of Grofé's populist suites.

Stromberg does these with a wink and without condescension. It is as tough to play Grofé as it is to play Ketèlbey.

The Hollywood Suite is in the pattern of a poem of scenes from the heyday of the omnipotent studios rather than the celebrity pictorial you find in works by Koechlin (Seven Stars Symphony) and Louis Aubert (Cinema). From the relaxed archly smiling Sweepers (complete with brush sounds), to the 'Grand Hotel' waltz of The Stand-In (who takes her moment of stardom), to the uproar and chaotic Elgarian bustle of Carpenters and Electricians, to the Busby Berkeley parody of Production Number to the Director-Star-Enemble in which the life and death power of the Director is followed by the lush (Korngold and Waxman in limelight) Star and all is rounded out by the final magniloquent flourish. This is a skilful evocation though lacking memorable themes.

If the Hollywood Suite is a slightly more gauche version of Samuel Barber's contemporaneous ballet suite Souvenirs then The Hudson River Suite is a sort of American Vltava with incursions from Delius's Florida Suite. The Hudson River movement shows none of the usual lapses in taste. Henry Hudson as pictured here is a rather placid man. Rip Van Winkle is rambunctious, jaunty and a mite boozy. The echoes are from Malcolm Arnold's score for Hobson's Choice. Rip whistles for his dog and a member of the orchestra barks. The story would have worked well for Arnold in his heyday. Albany Night Boat reeks a little of Ravel in Bolero and in Rapsodie Espagnole in the high string harmonics. A little Arnoldian whisky haze also settles. New York! is like a wild man's answer to Ligeti, Ives and Mossolov - a brief howling wail of a piece.

Inventive orchestration of such supercharged pictorial filmic quality also marks out the Death Valley Suite where you can almost taste the dust and see the skeletal heads and horns projecting from the sand. The Oh Susannah dance in The Water Hole is a typically gauche interlude but Grofé gathers himself for a majestic finale in Sand Storm. Grofé's way with landscape and history painting is phenomenal. The track to sample is the baleful Funeral Mountains which have their share of crushing macabre Mussorgskian weight.

Grofé wrote plenty of orchestral music and his pictorial suites are well able to stand in company with Eric Coates, Haydn Wood, Montague Phillips and the rest. He had ten years from 1906 with the Los Angeles PO and then joined the Paul Whiteman orchestra. There he did much orchestration which won them world-wide sales and concerts. He famously orchestrated Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and was with the orchestra in its epochal tour of Europe in 1924. Visual references were his stock in trade and it is some wonder that he was not active in films. He died after multiple heart attacks in Philip Marlowe country - Santa Monica, California.

This shortish disc has plenty of scope for sequels which could include Metropolis, Mississippi Suite, Killarney Irish suite, Rudy Vally Suite and Tabloid Suite

The quality of the playing here lacks nothing in glee and zest. Any conductor and orchestra who wants to make something of a Grofé project needs to paint in Rimskian primary colours and that is what Stromberg and the lads and lasses from the Pine Tree resort do. Dan Godfrey would have been proud of them.

Rob Barnett


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