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Henry MANCINI (1924–1994)
The Music of Henry Mancini (arr. Richard Hayman): Peter Gunn; Moon River; Baby Elephant Walk; String on Fire; Dear Heart; Dream of a Lifetime; The Great Race March; Days of Wine and Roses; The Pink Panther; Two for the Road; Pie in the Face Polka; Ballerina’s Dream; The Life Force Theme; The Glass Menagerie; Charade; Beaver Valley ’37: I. The River; II Black Snow; III The Sons of Italy; Drummer’s Delight; The Thorn Birds; March with Mancini
Richard Hayman and his Orchestra
rec. Concert Hall, Slovak Radio, Bratislava, 7–9 November 1990
NAXOS 8.557825 [74:55]
More than ten years after Henry Mancini’s death his music has acquired classic status. Many of his best compositions were evergreens even during his lifetime. Listening to some of the best known pieces in one or two sittings, as I did prior to this review, it isn’t easy to pinpoint: what is typical Mancini? He moved freely between genres, from sentimental ballads to big band jazz. He adjusted so well to the different requirements that the abiding impression is of a chameleon. Where is the real Mancini? Or rather: are there several Mancinis? With Gershwin there is often something distinctive, something that makes him stand out among other contemporaries. With Mancini I recognise tunes I already knew but those new to me could actually be by any of many composers from his generation. This is not to say that it isn’t good but the music lacks the stamp of a personality. The arrangements may in part be to blame; the experienced Richard Hayman is another chameleon. He had many years as arranger in residence for the Boston Pops and other orchestras. Mancini’s own arrangements have that stamp of distinction – I didn’t have more than one or two in my collection.
 
I am sorry for starting on a somewhat negative note but this is not really an assessment, it’s just a meditation. It shouldn’t detract from the enjoyment of the music. It didn’t for me, and I will certainly play this disc on suitable occasions as background music or to demonstrate what a skilled arranger can accomplish. Recorded more than fifteen years ago in Bratislava the sound is still excellent and even if the musicians may not be as attuned to the idiom as Americans would have been, they are professionals and do a good job with some groovy instrumental solos showing delight in the music. Most of the plums in Mancini’s pudding are here and Richard Hayman mostly gets the most out of each number. Perhaps I would have liked Moon River to be more intimate with less marked beat and less pompousness, but Baby Elephant Walk with its pumping boogie-woogie rhythm is a real swinger. The Great Race March is a fresh and stunning piece in the Sousa vein, even incorporating some quotations. The Pink Panther is good big band jazz and Two for the Road has a harmonica playing the lead in a jazzy arrangement. Pie in the Face Polka is great fun, lively circus music. The Life Force Theme from a vampire saga is a Bolero-like piece, hammering the melody into the listener’s head. Generally speaking I derived more pleasure from the rhythmic numbers; the ballad-style pieces were more run-of-the-mill, pretty, professional but anonymous.
 
Beaver Valley, completed around 1970, is a more ambitious work, a concert suite in three movements, employing earlier themes. The bleak second movement, Black Snow, is an atmospheric piece and in the third, The Sons of Italy, Mancini evokes sunny memories of the land of his ancestors. He also pays a tribute to his father, who was an amateur piccolo-player in the “Sons of Italy Band” in Philadelphia.
 
All in all this is good entertainment. Anyone wanting a well-played cross-section of Mancini’s hits mixed with some lesser-known pieces need look no further.
 
Göran Forsling
 

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