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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Leroy ANDERSON (1908-1975)
Orchestral Music Vol.1
Bugler’s Holiday (1954) [2:41]
Blue Tango (1951) [2:58]
The First Day of Spring (1954) [3:05]
Belle of the Ball (1951) [3:00]
Governor Bradford March (1948) [2:29]
Clarinet Candy (1962) [2:59]
The Captains and the Kings (1962) [2:46]
The Golden Years (1962) [4:10]
Chicken Reel (1946) [3:07]
Fiddle-Faddle (1947) [3:43]
The Classical Jukebox (1950) [3:09]
China Doll (1951) [2:38]
Balladette (1962) [3:02]
Arietta (1962) [2:38]
Piano Concerto in C (1953) [19:29]
Jeffrey Biegel (piano)
Catherine Moore, David McCallum, John Blackshaw (trumpets), Michael Pearce, Derek Hannigan, Jenny McLaren, Neville Graham (clarinets),
BBC Concert Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin
rec. The Colosseum, Town Hall, Watford, 24-25 April 2006. DDD 
NAXOS 8.559313 [61:55]

 

Experience Classicsonline

 

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 oboe.

 

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!

 

John France

 

see also Review by Bob Briggs

 

Footnote

Naxos say there will be more Liszt releases this year and there are five more releases in the Anderson project to come.




 


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