It may come as a surprise to some, as it did to me,
to learn from the notes accompanying this CD, that Leroy Anderson was
an alumnus, and a distinguished one, of both the New England Conservatory
and of Harvard University where his teachers included the composers,
George Enesco and Walter Piston. After graduating from Harvard in 1930
Anderson was Organist and Choirmaster to the University until 1935.
Perhaps, on reflection, this upbringing is not such
a surprise. Though Anderson eventually pursued a career far removed
from academic or "serious" music and became the doyen of American
light music composers and arrangers, it is clear from the contents of
this CD that he was a consummate professional.
His involvement with light music began in 1936 when
he became an arranger for Arthur Fiedlerís celebrated Boston Pops Orchestra
and from then on the die was cast. Two of the items included here represent
his first original compositions, namely Jazz Pizzicato (1938)
and Jazz Legato (1939). Most of the remaining items in the programme
were penned in the period 1945 to 1954 though one piece, March of
the Two Left Feet is from 1970. Thus, we have here a collection
of Anderson in his prime.
I must say I found this a delightful disc. The pieces
are charming, witty and unpretentious and also nicely varied. Indeed,
should one choose to do so I think it would be quite possible to listen
straight through the programme without becoming bored. Indeed, this
music will often give you a genuine cause to smile. Some of the pieces
(The Waltzing Cat, Belle of the Ball and the ubiquitous
Sleigh Ride, for instance) are very well known. There are several
others which will be instantly recognizable even if one had not previously
known the identity of the composer. One such is The Typewriter
and, heard here in its original orchestration, it took me a couple of
attempts before correctly identifying it as the title music for Radio
4ís News Quiz.
All the pieces here are thoroughly engaging and enjoyable.
Particularly successful, I think, are Serenata, with its seductive
Latin American lilt, the nostalgic Trumpeterís Lullaby, the infectiously
busy Fiddle Faddle, and the celebrated Blue Tango, understandably
one of Andersonís biggest Ďhitsí. One piece in particular betrays Andersonís
"classical" training: Plink, Plank, Plunk! could only
have been written by someone very familiar with the third movement of
Tchaikovskyís Fourth Symphony.
Only one of the pieces here lasts over four minutes.
However, all of them are full of character. Indeed, Anderson shows himself
a master of the musical precis, establishing the mood of each piece
within a matter of seconds and then saying what he has to say quickly
and effectively. Without exception the pieces are well written, expertly
orchestrated (nice use of percussion) and packed with winning tunes.
The whole programme is performed with gusto and polish
by Richard Hayman and his eponymous players. This is a refreshing disc
which will be self-recommending to fans of light music in general and
of Leroy Anderson in particular. It is also well worth a fiver of anyoneís
money, ready to be taken down from the shelves when you want to listen
to music just for the sheer fun of it.