I must admit that I tend towards being a completist
when it comes to music. It probably goes back to days when I used
hang over railway bridges and haunt the end of Motherwell station
platforms to collect steam and diesel locomotive numbers. However,
my thoughts on musical completeness are slightly different. It
is not really my burning desire to ‘collect’ every work written
by Bax, Beethoven or Bliss. Goodness knows, I would not want
to plough my way through the myriad ‘dances’ for piano by Ludwig
any more than I could settle down to address every sonata written
by Scarlatti. But there is a valid reason for a ‘complete’
or ‘collected’ edition of the complete works of a poet, an author
or a composer. It gives the listener, the student and the musicologist
a reference on which to base their criticisms and understanding
of the composer. And for this reason alone I applaud Naxos
and their attempt to present all the orchestral works of Leroy
The down-side of
this approach is that there are bound to be some pieces that
do not do the composer justice: there are a few works that he
may have excluded from the canon. And deservedly so!
I have always enjoyed
Leroy Anderson and his laid-back American style of ‘light’ music.
Like most people that are ‘into’ his music, I have been brought
up on the ‘greatest hits’ type of LP or CD. Several of his works
are reproduced time and time again - and with justice. I think
of Sleigh Ride, The Waltzing Cat, and The Typewriter
etc. But there is a deal of music that has not been heard or
is known only to connoisseurs. Some of this is good, some great
and one or two pieces are frankly indifferent. In addition to
his original pieces, Anderson
was always in demand as an arranger. We are fortunate in this
release to be able to hear two such works.
The present CD,
in similar manner to Volume 1, includes old favourites and new
discoveries. Five of the sixteen works are in fact ‘world premiere
recordings.’ The first of these ‘premieres’, the Woodbury
Fanfare was especially composed for the tercentenary of
Woodbury, Connecticut which was the composer’s adopted hometown.
It is scored for four trumpets and is effectively a festive
fanfare of the sort that could have been written for, and played
on, any important occasion. There is nothing here to suggest
the composer’s typical style.
A Harvard Festival
could be regarded as a kind of Yankee Academic Festival Overture.
takes four Harvard student songs and creates a considerable
piece. And there are certainly nods to Brahms. Once again nothing
here that proclaims Anderson
- if anything I thought (oddly) of Malcolm Arnold in one or
two places. Not perhaps one of the composer’s greatest works-
even if it is well conceived and constructed.
The next ‘novelty’
is the Whistling Kettle which was written at the height
of Beatlemania in 1966. It was originally
a student piece for violin and viola solo and orchestra that
was meant to be part of a suite called The Musical Household.
I am not surprised that Leroy Anderson withdrew this work!
The last two ‘world
premieres’ have the somewhat Shadows-esque
entitled Waltz around the Scale and Lullaby of the
Drums. The former began life as a piece for neophyte string
ensemble: it was later worked up into a work for full orchestra
and had the distinction of being the composer’s last original
orchestral composition. It was later withdrawn – although listening
some 35 years down the road it does appear to have some claim
to be a part of the canon. I cannot quite decide what to say
about the Lullaby – perhaps it needs the occasional airing?
the novelties do tend to be missing that Anderson
magic that is so obvious in the pot-boilers presented on this
CD – such as the Jazz Legato, Jazz Pizzicato, Horse
& Buggy and the Waltzing Cat. They need neither
introduction nor commentary.
is an attractive piece of mood music that makes use of a piano
obbligato. It was originally an elementary
piano piece that was worked up into a ‘symphonic’ tune that
is truly romantic – a nice little discovery. Home Stretch
is a romp. It is a musical description of a horse race with
the runners and riders battling towards the winning post.
Great stuff! The Girl in Satin is my favourite
piece on this CD. It takes the listener a long way from Manhattan
or Horse-and-Buggy country – in fact all the way to sunny Spain.
After a brief flourish this music drops into a drowsy tango
that is full of happy memories of an Iberian peninsula
before the British Invasion of the Costa Brava!
This is a truly lovely work.
The Song of the
Bells is an attractive waltz where the bells have an opportunity
to mark out the tune. Although typically a traditional waltz
there is a bit of syncopation here to spice up the proceedings.
It goes without
saying that the playing is excellent and the sound quality superb.
The balance of the programme is well thought out and the sleeve-notes
are informative. The only downside is that the length of the
CD at 54 minutes is a wee bitty wee!
How to listen to
this CD? I guess that I would tend to work through the ‘new’
works first and make a decision as to their relative worth compared
to the ‘old favourites’ – which would be the next part of my
exploration. I would leave the large-scale Suite of
Carols and the Song of Jupiter to the end. These
last works that are perhaps atypical
of Anderson. As
such they need to be approached for what they are – attractive
pieces full of ‘neo-classical elegance’ and devoid of the pizzazz
usually associated with Anderson.
by Ian Lace