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Leroy Anderson (1908-1975)
Orchestral Works: Volume 3

Harvard Sketches (Lowell House Bells – Freshman in Harvard Square – Widener Reading Room – Class Day Confetti Battle) (1939) [4:49]
Melody on Two Notes (1966) [1:55]
Mother’s Whistler (1940) [3:30]
The Penny Whistle Song (1951) [2:38]
The Phantom Regiment (1951) [3:09]
Plink, Plank, Plunk! (2:49) [2:49]
Promenade (1951) [2:47]
Sandpaper Ballet (1954) [3:18]
Saraband (1948) [3:36]
Serenata (1947) [3:54]
Old MacDonald Had a Farm (1947) [3:16]
Willson: Seventy-Six Trombones (arr. Anderson) (1958) [2:57]
Sleigh Ride (1948) [2:47]
Suite of Carols for Brass Choir (1955) [11:42]
Gershwin: Wintergreen for President (arr. Anderson) (1932) [1:32]
The Typewriter (1950) [1:43]
Trumpeter's Lullaby (1949) [3:08]
The Syncopated Clock (1945) [2:26]
Alasdair Malloy (solo typewriter) (The Typewriter); Catherine Moore (solo trumpet) (Trumpeter’s Lullaby)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin
rec. 12-14 April 2007, Colosseum, Town Hall Watford, United Kingdom. DDD
NAXOS 8.559357 [61:49]
Experience Classicsonline

This, at least for me, is possibly the ‘best’ of the three Naxos CDs of Leroy Anderson’s music released to date. But that is simply because it has my favourite Anderson piece on it – the Serenata. Here is a miniature that conjures up the summer sunshine in Majorca or the Costa del Sol. But not just sunshine – there is quite definitely a beautiful senorita with smouldering eyes, blatantly portrayed by the ‘major’ key part of this piece ... But there are other reasons why this CD is ‘top of the pops.’ For example, it would be a stern person indeed who did not laugh out loud at the antics of the ‘band’ in the 1947 arrangement of Old MacDonald had a Farm – complete with a battery of animal noises, Surely a piece like this would bring the Albert Hall down on the ‘Last Night’?

The CD opens with a rather fun pre-war work - the Harvard Sketches which supposedly describes the antics of the students. The number opens quite innocuously with an impression of the Lowell House Bells, yet soon there is a change of mood when a clarinet strikes up a jaunty tune in Harvard Square. As it is a ‘freshman,’ I guess he does not realise this is ‘not appropriate music’ for the old Alma Mater. There are lots of ‘wrong’ notes! The silence of the Widener Reading Room is presented in a quiet reflective mood – only to be interrupted by strange noises representing chattering and of course the librarian ‘rapping the desk for silence.’ Harvard Sketches ends with a Confetti Dance. Surely the listener cannot help but be reminded of Charles Ives in this piece.

Melody on Two Notes is quite simply lovely. The tune is, based on the notes G and D but is presented in such a way that interest is never lost. However, it is the harmonies and the orchestration that bring character to this work. Alas, it is painfully short.

Mother’s Whistler, from 1940 and the Penny Whistle Song written eleven years later are typical Anderson numbers. The former was lost to the world until it was discovered in the Boston Pops library – this is its first recording. Apparently the composer was not happy with the piece. Look out for the barking dog! The Penny Whistle Song is really a quiet piece with a catchy tune; it is well-described as ‘happy go lucky.’

The Phantom Regiment is supposed to ‘depict a nameless body of soldiers marching into and then trotting across the scene – before marching away.’ It is interesting balance of military march and up tempo quick step. I guess that Plink, Plank, Plunk needs little introduction save to say that it has an infectious tune that stays in my brain for days after hearing it! It was written as a ‘sequel’ to the equally memorable Jazz Pizzicato. Anderson composed Promenade whilst he was still in the Army – and this is certainly obvious in the military atmosphere of this tune. It is no amble in ‘Central Park before Dark’ but is much more West Point on a passing-out parade day. The Sandpaper Ballet is one of those pieces that every one knows but can never quite put their finger on. I guess it is the rubbing of the various grades of sandpaper replicating the old ‘soft shoe shuffle’ that gives the game away – but just try to recall the title the next time you hear this piece! The Saraband is my least favourite number in this collection – however I know that Anderson’s ‘take’ on the baroque dance –for example, suddenly doubling the speed of the music - is popular in many quarters.

Of Sleigh Ride I need say little – save it is one of the most Christmassy pieces I know of. It makes me dream of the deep snow that we had way back in 1963! Other well-known tunes include The Typewriter with its ‘Oh, so obvious’ sound effect – yet it still makes people smile when they hear it for the umpteenth time. And then there is the Trumpeter’s Lullaby which was composed as a ‘show piece’ for the Boston Pops lead trumpet player – Roger Voisin. The Syncopated Clock was used as a theme tune for the CBS-TVs ‘The Late Show’ and became a ‘household’ jingle. It does not need a listener to be a genius to deduce that Anderson will make the clock ‘tick’ both on and off beat! This is a great tune to wrap up the CD.

However there are two other works that deserve mention. In fact, the Suite of Carols for Brass Choir is the longest work on this disc. Of course, it is the wrong time of year for listening to this kind of music - as it is for the Sleigh Ride - but it was well worth hearing. Leroy Anderson wrote three ‘carol’ suites for a special ‘Holiday’ season album – one for strings, one for winds and the present Suite. Rarely for the composer, this music is almost entirely devoid of the usual ‘fingerprints.’ They are actually well-written, neo-classical arrangements and should be listened to as such. The carols selected include:- In Dulci Jubilo: Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming: I Saw Three Ships: From Heaven High I Come to You; We Three Kings of Orient are and March of the Kings.

And last, but not least, is the arrangement of George Gershwin’s Wintergreen for President. This is a number from the show Of thee I sing which is set in the White House! This is one of the composer’s earliest pieces – but certainly deserves our attention with its ‘bustling manner’.

It is self-evident that Leonard Slatkin and the ‘band’ enjoy themselves playing this music. There is, I guess, an ever-present danger that players could be condescending to Anderson’s music when they have perhaps been wrestling with Mahler, Boulez or Pärt. However, in this recording, every note is taken seriously and every bar is chock-full of ‘pizzazz’.

A great disc – and I am looking forward to what I imagine will be the fourth and final CD?

John France

Volume 1

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