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Twentieth Century Americana
Nathaniel SHILKRET (1889-1982)
Trombone Concerto (1944) [20:45]
Morton GOULD (1913-1996)
Latin-American Symphonette
(Symphonette No. 4) (1937) [21:57]
Paul CRESTON (1906-1985)
Saxophone Concerto, Op. 26 (1944) [19:25]
Tommy Dorsey (trombone)
James Abato (saxophone)
New York City Symphony Orchestra (Shilkret), Radio Italiana Orchestra of Turin (Gould), Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra (Creston)/Leopold Stokowski
rec. 15 February 1945; 6 May 1955; 26 August 1945. Mono. ADD

Guild, aided and abetted by Edward Johnson and his matchless audio collection, continue the dedicated tilling of Stokowski's radio work. They could not do it as well as they have without the science and alchemy of Colchester's Peter Reynolds. The sound throughout is much better than I had expected. Listening is not an arduous experience.

These three works are culled, as you can see, from a miscellany of broadcasts, one of them presumably courtesy of Italian Radio. The inclusion of separately tracked announcements and applause adds a sense of history frozen in time.

The Shilkret Trombone Concerto is a fascinating novelty with Dorsey treated like celebrity Royalty - even more so than the martinet Stokowski who cracks the whip over the audience: "The concert ends now unless you are quiet". The trombone's Hollywood tone delights those attending who presumably were there because of Dorsey; a mainstream classical audience they are not. They whistle and applaud at the end of the first movement and there's rapturous uproar at the end. This luxuriant three movement work smooches and croons in a way that evokes Sinatra and Steiner with the resonance of the hall seemingly well caught. The middle movement is influenced by Gershwin and the finale (Bright Boogie Woogie) is a jazzy swerve of a piece. There's an audio crackle at 8.20 in the first movement but it's momentary.

Shilkret crops up in many guises in US musical life often as conductor as in the case of the 1928 RCA recording of Gershwin's An American in Paris with the Victor Symphony Orchestra; Gershwin himself played the celesta on that occasion. He is Mischa Elman's conductor in Tchaikovsky's Sérénade Mélancolique. I suspect there is much more to know about Elman as composer but you can sample his work in the first movement of the Genesis Suite as recorded by Naxos and Pristine.

If Shilkret and others such as that prolific symphonist Don Gillis, Ferde Grofé and Harl Macdonald (review review) did well in an area that moved seamlessly between classical, film, popular and jazz then so did the multi-talented Morton Gould. His vibrantly coloured Latin-American Symphonette is the fourth of his four Symphonettes. His resinous and highly spiced writing includes a final Conga which is a stomping shindig. I also detect in the work's exuberant complexity that Gould had learnt from the success of Villa-Lobos in North America. I should add that Gould as conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has recently been celebrated with his own boxed set of 6 CDs from RCA Red Seal (88875120702).

Paul Creston's music is well worth exploring. There are plenty of Creston reviews to delve through on this site. He wrote symphonies and many concertos and was a notable teacher whose pupils included John Corigliano. The saxophone caught his imagination. In addition to this wartime Concerto he wrote a suite (1935) and a Rapsodie; the latter for none other than Jean-Marie Londeix. I was introduced to the Creston Sax Concerto by a 1975 radio broadcast in which the soloist was Harvey Pittel with the San Jose Symphony Orchestra conducted by George Cleve. Abbato/Stokowski present the work with greater immediacy and brilliance than the slightly more reflective Pittel and Cleve. As represented here the three movements trace a line through the furiously energetic ways of a capricious yet charming jackanapes (I) to lyrical romantic (II) to a flashy gallic sprint that is a shade too showy for its own good (III). That said, the performance rallies at 1.53 in the finale and all the stops are pulled out for a gift of a melody. Creston was good that this sort of thing.

Abato (1919-2008) has rather merged into the background since his 1975 Nonesuch LP (H-1030) of the Saxophone concertos by Glazunov and Ibert; itself a reissue. He was professor of the instrument at the Juilliard and played in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in Porgy and Bess and Lulu. It seems that he also recorded Creston's Saxophone Sonata. The saxophone was not his first instrument; you would never know from this evidence.

The liner notes hold the attention and are fulsome and affluent in factual references. They are by Guild regular Robert Matthew-Walker whose chamber music is sampled in the recent Guild GMCD7423.

In summary then: two unusual concertos and a Symphonette, the latter and the Shilkret having a popular emphasis. This represents more evidence of Stokowski's catholic tastes in presenting premieres.

Rob Barnett



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