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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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American Jubilee
John WILLIAMS (b. 1932)

Liberty Fanfare (1986) [4:17]
Traditional

Yankee Doodle Dandy (arr. Richard Hayman) [3:07]
Charles IVES (1874-1954)

Variations on ‘America’ (1891) (orch. William Schuman) [7:06]
Louis Moreau GOTTSCHALK (1829-1869)

Three selections from Cakewalk (reconstructed and orchestrated by Hershy Kay)
Grand Walkaround [3:09]
Wallflower Waltz [2:20]
Gala Cakewalk [3:43]
George Whitefield CHADWICK (1854-1931)

Jubilee from Symphonic Sketches (1895) [8:05]
Daniel EMMETT (1815-1904)

Dixie (1859) (arr. Richard Hayman) [5:45]
William STEFFE (ca. 1830-1890)

Battle Hymn of the Republic* (1861) (arr. Peter Wilhousky) [5:08]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)

Variations on a Shaker Melody from Appalachian Spring (1943-44) [3:26]
Morton GOULD (1913-1996)

American Salute (1943) [4:32]
George M. COHAN (1878-1942)

Star Spangled Spectacular (1904-5) (arr. John Cacavas) [4:18]
Introduction [0:14]
Mary’s A Grand Old Name [0:53]
Give My Regards to Broadway [0:41]
Forty-five Minutes from Broadway [0:56]
Yankee Doodle Dandy [0:33]
You’re A Grand Old Flag [1:00]
Irving BERLIN (1888-1989)

God Bless America* (1918/1938) [2:00]
Samuel A. WARD (1848-1903)

America the Beautiful* (1882) (arr. Carmen Dragon) [3:31]
John Philip SOUSA (1854-1932)

The Stars and Stripes Forever* (1896) [3:50]
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra/Erich Kunzel
* With the May Festival Chorus
rec. Music Hall, Cincinnati, 17 September 1985; 11 May, 16 September 1986; 10 May, 15 September, 23 November 1987
TELARC CD-80144 [65:17]


 

Anyone with an interest in recorded music will remember Robert Woods and Jack Renner’s early Telarc LPs, many of which went on to become demonstration discs. I have fond memories of Lorin Maazel’s Tchaikovsky Fourth and Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition, not to mention the Kunzel/Cincinnati 1812 Overture with its warning sticker on the sleeve. Of course Renner and Woods were just pushing the audio envelope as RCA and Mercury had done before them, and it is remarkable how good these recordings still sound today.

American Jubilee, recorded between 1985 and 1987, is the kind of orchestral workout that shows both the orchestra and engineers to best advantage. Renner and Woods capture the natural heft, energy and bite in this music and when it comes to sheer panache the Cincinnati Pops yield little or nothing to their rivals in Boston.

John Williams’ Liberty Fanfare has a cinematic sweep – indeed one can almost see the giant credits rolling up the screen – while the traditional Yankee Doodle Dandy with its distant martial opening looks backwards to a more traditional celebratory style. The overall dynamics in both are superbly judged, the muffled bass drum and crisp side drums in the latter especially well recorded.

William Schuman’s arrangement of Ives’ Variations on ‘America’ strikes a different note again; there is a more symphonic style here but when ‘that’ tune steals in for the first time we are reminded of Ives the maverick. It’s a terrific piece, each variation more outlandish than the last. Listen out for those subterranean bass-drum thwacks, something of a Renner/Woods speciality.

The selections from Gottschalk’s Cakewalk were reconstructed and orchestrated for a 1951 ballet by Hershy Kay. Coming straight after Ives’ rogueish writing the orchestration may seem a little plain but the ungainly little Wallflower Waltz should raise a smile or two. (Incidentally, anyone wanting to explore more of Gottschalk’s œuvre should sample pianist Philip Martin’s definitive series on Hyperion.)

Chadwick, who studied in Leipzig, combines American joie de vivre with a more sober Germanic symphonic style. It is a pleasing juxtaposition, reminiscent of Dvořák at times, but the lingering air of old Europe is quickly dissipated by a riotous coda.

Few pieces can be more emblematic of the American south than Dan Emmett’s Dixie (also popular in the north as Dixie for the Union). Kunzel and his band really bring out the parade atmosphere, with strumming banjos and sawing fiddles. Another tune with its roots in the Civil War is the stirring Battle Hymn of the Republic. According to David Loebel’s detailed liner notes the piece has its origins in the camp-meeting hymn ‘Say, Brothers, Will You Meet Us On Canaan’s Happy Shore?’ which mutated into ‘John Brown’s Body’. The Twelfth Massachusetts Regiment then turned it into a march, to which the abolitionist and poet Julia Howe Ward added the words we know today.

The May Festival Chorus, one of the oldest and most prestigious of its kind in America, brings genuine nobility and some lovely hushed singing to a piece somewhat out of synch with 21st-century cynicism. It is all the better for being sung with restraint rather than in the grandiose choral style of, say, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. That said it has moments of real grandeur and ends with a tummy-wobbling contribution from the organ. As always the Telarc team achieve a thrilling, believable soundstage.

Although this is a disc of ‘patriotic tunes’ Kunzel keeps a judicious hand on the tiller throughout, even in works such as Gould’s tub thumper American Salute. From the same period (the Second World War) comes a rather different celebration – this time of peace and the joys of community – in Copland’s Variations on a Shaker Melody from Appalachian Spring. Although the original ballet suite has been ruthlessly overplayed on the airwaves Kunzel still manages to convey much of the work’s rustic charm.

Another celebration, this time a sophisticated metropolitan one, with the Broadway medley by composer and lyricist George M. Cohan. Here the Cincinnatians really throw themselves into the music, giving it a genuine swing and shimmy that bands this side of the pond, good as they are, never quite seem to manage.

The disc ends with three of the most iconic American pieces. Irving Berlin’s God Bless America was penned at the end of one war in 1918 and pressed into service at the beginning of another in 1938. Once again one appreciates Kunzel’s restrained approach to music that can so easily become overblown. The percussion and organ are superbly caught, the latter bringing splendid weight to the proceedings.

The drum roll and orchestral prelude of America the Beautiful has the same sweep of Williams’ Fanfare, evoking the craggy landscapes and open skies of Ansel Adams and John Ford. As a finale the Sousa, with its mix of Habsburg elegance and new world swagger, may not have quite the frisson one expects from this showpiece but then that is typical of Kunzel’s general approach. That said, the May Festival Chorus certainly ratchet up the decibels with their splendidly incisive singing at the close.

My review copy has a sticker on the jewel case proclaiming ‘HiFi – Good Value’ and that says it all really. Hifi buffs will certainly rejoice in this spectacular recording but those who just want to hear the music will find plenty to enjoy as well.

Dan Morgan

 


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