Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Two Concert Etudes (1933) 8.14
Three Songs from The Shadow 5.24
Piano Quintet (1933) 17.06
The American Serenade - String Quartet No. 2 (1945) 15.47
Matthew Robertson, piano, (grandson of composer) JoAnn Otley, soprano  Elizabeth Cox Ballantyne, piano Stacy Phelps, violin Dawn Phelps Neal, violin (cousin of the composer) Cynthia Phelps, viola Shelley Phelps, cello Sheila Phelps, piano Jean Bradford, violin (grand-daughter of composer) Lynnette Thredgold violin Leslie Harlow viola Ellen Bridger cello
A Treasury of Chamber Music - Heritage Series volume 1 TANTARA RECORDS 7 14861 00042 9 Brigham Young University [48.04]

Leroy Robertson. Yes that's right. Not, Leroy Anderson (he of Typewriter Serenade fame). Robertson is quite another proposition. Think of him as a sort of Utah equivalent of Nebraska's Howard Hanson. As ever with these 'sound-a-like' comparisons I over-simplify. However this will give you some idea of what to expect.

I discovered Robertson through a tape of the tuneful Violin Concerto (recorded on Vanguard LP by Tossy Spivakovsky with the Utah S O conducted by Maurice Abravanel). From this I went on to discover his big-boned, romantic and imposing setting for soli, chorus and orchestra of The Book of Mormon (a touch of Hanson's Song of Democracy and Lament of Beowulf) and the more intimate American Serenade.

I was most enthusiastic to review this disc and was very pleased that Tantara Records made a review copy available.

The Two Etudes are neatly contrasted. The first is a slow fantasy in a style that veers variously towards John Ireland, Edward Macdowell and Eugene Goossens. The odd wrong note harmony adds some zest to the proceedings which are liberally dowsed in impressionistic grandeur. The second is a sparer and more urgent event written while the composer was studying with Leichtentritt in Nazi Berlin in the 1930s.

The Three Songs are most attractive. If you know the Joyce Book songs the Irish lilt of Analogies and of Night Mood will recall both the Moeran and the Bax songs. Joy shipmate Joy might easily have been a soul-partner to Holst setting from the early 1900s. All will be welcome to anyone who enjoys British song from the first quarter of the last century.

The Piano Quintet is soaked in the same language as the Howells Piano Quartet (it is even in the same key) and the piano and quartet accompaniments of the two Housman song-cycles by Ivor Gurney. There is also more than a trace of the Hungarian csardas. The second movement is rather a Gothic, sorrowful and lichen-hung. The finale sets tongues a-chatter and feet a-tapping. This is an exultant essay light with the spirit of spring and ending in splashing, shuddering and thrumming splendour. I did not detect the American western spirit claimed for it by the notes. This speaks of a more subtle world-view than Hollywood lead us to believe.

As for the American Serenade (second string quartet) it is dedicated to Ernest Bloch who also loved the country of his adoption (recall the Vanguard recording of his orchestral Rhapsody: America). The first movement is good partner to Bax's First Quartet with a roughened shimmer more in common with high the dizzying pastorals of Hungary. The music is not as light as you might expect having a buzzing melos similar to the piano quintet. The nocturne is pleasing if not mesmerising and the finale's pioneer fiddle-faddle is as much about Hungary and Vienna as the Far West.

The most helpful notes are by Marian Robertson Wilson.

I recommend you explore the music of Leroy Robertson. You might well be very agreeably surprised. Now will someone PLEASE reissue the Abravanel recording of The Book of Mormon and the violin concerto. We also need fresh recordings of the two symphonies and a host of other works.


Rob Barnett

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Rob Barnett

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