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Ferde GROFÉ (1892-1972)
Mississippi Suite (1926)
Grand Canyon Suite (1931)
Niagara Falls Suite (1961)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/William Stromberg
Recorded in 5.1 Surround Sound; and SACD/CD [plays on all CD and SACD players] at Wessex Hall, Poole Arts Centre, Poole, Dorset, UK 27/28 July 1998. DDD
NAXOS 6.110002 [67:46]


Regular readers of MusicWeb’s sibling, Film Music on the Web, will recognise the name William Stromberg as the conductor of the majority of the releases in Marco Polo’s ongoing ‘Classic Film Scores’ series. Clearly the cinematic nature of this music is of great appeal to this conductor. And the huge orchestral forces and brilliant colours offer a marvellous opportunity to demonstrate new sound technologies.

The Grand Canyon Suite has been recorded numerous times so Stromberg faces stiff competition and it has to be said that there are more persuasive performances. Bernstein on Sony SMK 63086 is infectiously witty in his portrait of ‘On the Trail’ and Kunzel’s Telarc recording (CD 80086) has power and splendour aplenty and it offers a second performance of Cloudburst with real thunderclaps as a bonus). I also retain an affection for Antal Dorati’s Decca recording (410 110-2). Having said all that, Stromberg’s reading has plenty of guts and character and it sounds very thrilling – the surround sound really involving the listener.

Stromberg’s commitment and enthusiasm makes a strong case for Grofé’s Mississippi Suite which is less well-known and candidly less interesting. Its opening movement ‘Father of the Waters’ is a broad sweeping evocation seeking to suggest the river’s natural grandeur but Indian calls and negro folk-tune banalities don’t help. The most interesting movement is the very witty portrait of ‘Huckleberry Finn’ with Stromberg wildly and mischievously boisterous. ‘Old Creole Days’ is more restful, a sweet elegy for the old days in moonlit Louisiana gardens (sub-Delius). Finally, ‘Mardi Gras’ fizzes with exuberant high jinks and folksongs. A favourite old ballad (the name of which has persistently escaped me) towers proudly over a New Orleans carnival backdrop.

Even less well-known is the ‘Niagara Falls Suite’ another musical ‘picture post card’; another noisy spectacular. ‘Thunder of the Waters’ captures the grandeur of the high falls as they cascade downwards carrying a suggestion of their watery smokiness. Implicit in this movement are Indian motifs which play a major part in the ‘Devil’s Hole Massacre’ – a movement that stands up to any similar western movie music by Steiner or Tiomkin and recalls an Indian ambush of 1763 when a British train of 25 wagons was obliterated. ‘Honeymooners’ adds a taste of romance and steers the music into calmer waters before the final ‘Power of Niagara’ plunges us back into even greater turbulence depicting the industrial might associated with a local Niagara hydro-electric plant complete with sirens and anvil strokes.

Big, big Technicolor music; great fun even in its banal moments, all conducted with great verve by movie music specialist, William T. Stromberg.

Ian Lace

See also review by Jonathan Woolf

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