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.
see also Review
by Göran Forsling