> From the New World [GH]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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George GERSHWIN (1898-1937) Overture ‘Strike Up the Band’; ‘Lullaby’ for strings; Overture ‘Girl Crazy’.
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990) ‘Danzon Cubano’;
Jose Pablo MONCAYO (1912-1958) ‘Huapango’.
Arthur BENJAMIN (1893-1960) North American Square Dance.
Jay LIVINGSTON (b.1915) Mr. Christopher Columbus;
Scott JOPLIN (1868-1917) Two Ragtimes.
Richard RODGERS (1902-1979) Oklahoma-Medley.
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990) A simple song from ‘Mass’.
SWR Rudfunkorchester Kaiserslautern/Klaus Arp, Saul Schechtmann, Ernst Wedam, Caspar Richter
Recorded in 1990/91/92/93/99 No further details given
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 93.021 [66.33]
As can be clearly seen this is a compilation CD put together under this slightly misleading title. Arthur Benjamin was of course Australian but his Square Dance, not incidentally for two pianos and orchestra as the booklet tells us, but for small orchestra is, of course, Yankee inspired, and Moncayo is quite certainly Mexican. Incidentally this latter piece receives a more powerful rendering by the Mexican Festival Orchestra conducted by Enrique Batiz on Naxos 8.550838.

We quite often sniff at these compilations but this one is a very attractive proposition. The music follows a general pattern of lively items sometimes followed by a slightly quieter piece. It is possible to play the CD right through without fear of being satiated by too many exciting rhythms and by music that is too similar.

A terrific performance directed by Klaus Arp of Gershwin’s ‘Strike up the band’ overture is followed by his delightful ‘Lullaby’ a work not heard until 1967 but originally composed in 1917 for string quartet. Copland’s outrageous ‘Danzon Cubano’ follows and then comes ‘Huapango’ which could be described as a slightly more polite version of Revueltas’s barbaric ‘Sensemaya’.

Jay Livingston’s all too brief ‘Mr. Christopher Columbus’ conducted by Ernst Wedam was new to me as was the composer. It comes from the film ‘Here comes the Groom’. This piece and the two Scott Joplin ‘Ragtimes’ that follow are typically pastiche Americana. In this anonymous orchestration the Joplin is pastiche. The piece comprises ‘rags’ from his ill-fated opera ‘Treemonisha’ completed in 1911.

I would like to know the arranger/compiler of the ‘Oklahoma-medley’. It so happened that I heard this the day after the Proms performance of parts of the musical. Comparisons of the style of orchestration are intriguing. Bernstein’s popular and reflective ‘Song’ then follows from his amazing theatre-play ‘Mass’. The disc ends with a scintillating performance of Gershwin’s ‘Girl Crazy’ Overture directed by Caspar Richter.

Another problem with compilations can be a disparity in the standard of recording, acoustic and volume levels let alone standard of performances. This is not a concern here. Hänssler, who, after all, are a very reliable company with high ideals have selected carefully and avoided these pitfalls. All recordings are especially vivid and ideal for this music. The German orchestra plays as if they know the music backwards and each conductor brings out the character and individuality of each work.

The very readable and easily understood booklet notes by Sebastian Urmoneit are translated from the German into French, Spanish and a rather quaint English.

As a reviewer I often wonder if the CD is worth keeping or passing on to green and pleasant lands, but this one will be kept and I suspect regularly played especially by my wife. Therefore I have to recommend it to all readers.

Gary Higginson

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