The present CD is the first of a promised
cycle of the ‘complete’ orchestral works
of Leroy Anderson. I have often expressed
concern about Naxos and their ‘complete’
editions. I think of their Liszt piano
works series which more or less ground
to a halt – or of more interest to me,
John Ireland.(but see footnote) The
blurb suggests that the present cycle
will include pieces that were suppressed,
previously unrecorded and still in manuscript.
Let us hope that it comes to pass.
A quick glance at the track-listing reveals only one ‘brand new
piece’ – the Governor Bradford March written in 1948.
This was named after a Massachusetts politician. Unfortunately,
it was not published during the composer’s lifetime. As far
as I am aware it has not been recorded before – at least it
is not currently available on CD. The listener will be reminded
of both Johann Strauss Junior and the great John Philip Sousa.
It is hard to imagine why this ‘high steppin’ piece has remained
in obscurity. A pure joy!
It is not really necessary to discuss all the tracks on this
CD as many of them are not only well known but are ‘household’
names. For example who does not know the Bugler’s
Holiday, The Belle of the Ball, Blue Tango,
Chicken Reel and the appropriately named Fiddle-Faddle
– at least the tunes if not the titles?
Listen to the wonderful Classical Jukebox – there is only
one other version of this fine parody. Here Anderson’s ‘cheeky’
takes on Wagner’s Tannhäuser, Delibes’ ballet scores
and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 are designed to amuse
and impress. And do not be disconcerted by the apparent sticking
of the record player needle – it is all part of the fun!
I have not heard the rhythmically ambiguous The Captains &
Kings before. This is based on Rudyard Kipling’s great poem
‘Recessional’ – “The tumult and the shouting dies, the captains
and the kings depart.” This piece has quite a bit of Eric Coates
about it! I was impressed by the slightly more earnest tone
of this work.
The Balladette is a much more serious work that its title
may suggest. It is described in the programme notes as ‘brooding’.
The ‘quizzical chromatic motif’ certainly makes this piece anything
but typical Anderson. This is a little masterpiece. Arietta
was written in 1962: it was originally composed as a duet for
cello and viola at a time when Anderson’s daughter Jane was
studying the viola. The effect is charming and we must be glad
that the composer chose to rework it in the present form.
Four other works make up this fine selection of Anderson’s compositions.
The First Day of Spring has a pastoral feel to it – with
a lovely part for oboe. This is perhaps more a country garden
on a summer’s day than a wide landscape: very beautiful and
quite moving. Clarinet Candy is a romp – written for
four clarinettists. It would never fail to bring the house down.
China Doll is a delicate piece that again showcases the
Yet it is The Golden Years that is the most nostalgic
piece on this CD. It is hard to know whether this richly scored
number is looking to the years already gone by or to a happier
future. Perhaps it is just a meditation on the present: for
the present is all that we can be sure of having. This is a
very attractive piece – and a million miles away from Fiddle-Faddle.
The highlight of this disc is undoubtedly the Piano Concerto.
I remember on my first trip to New York coming across a CD of
this piece in Tower Records up by the Lincoln Center. I was
so enthused by this ‘in your face’ work as I sat in Central
Park with my portable CD player – and listened to it at least
three times through! It seemed to epitomise that city.
There are two things to get straight about this Concerto.
Firstly, that it is full of wonderful tunes, melodies, pianistic
figurations, and lush harmonies – yes, I know, my teacher told
me that only grass is lush. In fact we hear all the paraphernalia
of the romantic concerto at its very best. The other thing is
that poor old Leroy could not develop material to save himself.
But who really cares when the music sounds as good as it does.
It could be argued that the first movement has all the hallmarks
of Rachmaninov and the last nods vigorously to Edvard Grieg.
It could also be argued that it does not matter. This is the
all-American Piano Concerto – unlike Gershwin in that
it does not ‘do’ jazz. It is untypical of Edward McDowell in
that it is not romantic in a European style. Yet from the point
of view of melody and sheer pleasure it can hold its own against
any piano concerto in America or beyond. Look out for that wonderful
second subject of the third movement. Anderson at very his best
– a touch of genius.
This is a CD to buy – even if you have tons of Leroy Anderson
in your collection already. Leonard Slatkin could not be a better
advocate for this music. The BBC Concert Orchestra are manifestly
in their element and Jeffrey Biegel plays the ‘over the top’
Concerto with pizzazz!
I just hope that Naxos close the deal: I look forwards to reviewing
the next couple of discs!
see also Review
by Bob Briggs
Naxos say there will be more Liszt
releases this year and there are five
more releases in the Anderson project