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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

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Henry MANCINI (1924-1994)
The Music of Henry Mancini
Peter Gunn [1:58]
Moon River [3:21]
Baby Elephant Walk [4:01]
String on Fire [2:30]
Dear Heart [3:06]
Dream of a Lifetime [3:31]
The Great Race March [2:29]
Days of Wine and Roses [3:42]
The Pink Panther [3:52]
Two for the Road [3:28]
Ballerina’s Dream [3:13]
The Life Force Theme [3:27]
The Glass Menagerie [5:30]
Charade [3:25]
Beaver Valley ‘37 [13:40]
Drummer’s Delight [4:10]
The Thorn Birds [2:56]
March with Mancini [3:58]
Richard Hayman and His Orchestra
rec. Concert Hall of the Slovak Radio, Bratislava, 7-9 November 1990
DDD
NAXOS 8.557825 [74:55] 

 

Henry Mancini is probably best known for his theme songs, especially the theme music for Peter Gunn and The Pink Panther. This only touches the surface of his impressive and varied career though, as he wrote the background music for Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Days of Wine and Roses, and Victor/Victoria, among others. He also wrote “pure” music at times, such as the orchestra suite Beaver Valley ’37. This CD is intended as homage to the music of Mancini, focusing on both his work for television and movies as well as some of his pure music. 

The selection is well made. Almost all of his hits are here, though it would have been nice if his Oscar nominated songs would have been included. The ‘missing’ tracks are “The Sweetheart Tree” from The Great Race, “It’s Easy to Say” from 10, and “Life in a Looking Glass” from That’s Life. Presumably, the reason for these exclusions must be that the orchestra has no vocalists and it would change the character of the songs to have them without vocals. This programming change would also have necessitated the removal of the Beaver Valley ’37 orchestral suite, which was composed as pure music rather than linked with cinema or television. When faced with that decision, it is easy to say that one could go either way. Beaver Valley ’37 is under-recorded and very enjoyable on its own terms where the songs might be better when connected to the film storyline. 

So the question of quality falls to performance. It must be noted that these are not the original recordings that are so familiar, and there is a definite difference in the recording techniques employed. When recording works for television or movies, especially when the music is focused on the use of brass and saxophones, generally the emphasis is on producing a bright, immediate sound with minimal reverb. These recordings are definitely made in a performance hall. The room introduces a distinctly different sound than the close-mic sound that the familiar recordings have. While this sounds fine for much of the album, and in places where the strings carry the tune it is perhaps preferable to the no-reverb studio sound, it sounds distinctly out-of-place on Peter Gunn and The Pink Panther. This is unfortunate, as those are probably the flagship recordings for the album. 

The highlights of the disc are probably the folksy Pie in the Face Polka, the always-winsome Baby Elephant Walk and the third movement of Beaver Valley ’37, “The Sons of Italy”. Also the oboe solo in The Glass Menagerie is outstanding. Unfortunately, the arranging is not always strong, as when in The Pink Panther the saxophone solo is inexplicably given to a trombone and Harmon muted trumpet. As much as this reviewer is a fan of the trombone, for this particular song the tenor sax is too-strongly associated with the melody to excuse the change. 

All of this said, this is a decent recording, and if it is put on as background music for a dinner party or a relaxing evening at home it is easily enjoyable. It probably works best if the listener is only halfway paying attention. While the intent is good, the execution is not what it could be. 

Patrick Gary 

see also Review by Göran Forsling

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