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
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
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.