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Boston Pops Orchestra / Arthur Fiedler
rec. 1977/78, Symphony Hall, Boston ELOQUENCE 482 8792 [79:06]
The Boston Pops concerts date from as far back as 1885, though they only adopted that particular label in 1900. In their first 45 years they managed to get through a series of 17 regular conductors. There was, therefore, presumably every reason to suppose that their 18th appointee, a certain Mr Arthur Fiedler, would similarly have moved on relatively quickly. In fact, he was to enjoy a remarkable tenure of no less than 49 years (1930-1979) during which he was to become the Boston Pops’ unmistakeable public face.
It was not, however, mere longevity in that post that explains Fiedler’s high profile. A consummate showman, he was always finely attuned to the contemporary Zeitgeist and adept at latching on to every mood of the moment and each passing fad that could be exploited to popularise what were undeniably “his” concerts. Thus, his final LP Saturday Night Fiedler was to boast, as Raymond Tuttle’s enjoyably informative booklet essay reminds us, both a cover photo of the 85 years old maestro as a disco-dancing John Travolta lookalike (!) and a rear cover note in which Fiedler himself gushed: “From the moment I conducted the ‘Saturday Night Fiedler’ suite on Television this May, I knew that the youngsters had done it again: disco – a marvellous, insistently rhythmic dance form to which all manner of music can be adapted from Bach to the Bee-Gees. And this span of musical poles truly accents the universality of music.” Anyone taken in by such patronising nonsense must have failed to perceive that Fiedler’s inability even to accord the Bee Gees their correct name suggests that Saturday Night Fiedler was less a genuine homage than a canny marketing ploy.
The tracks on this new, very well filled, compilation derive from two Decca Phase 4 Stereo LPs recorded in the last few years of Fiedler’s life – Fiedler Encores and The two sides of Fiedler. The first eight tracks – encompassing Sibelius, Smetana, Dvořák, Mendelssohn, Humperdinck, Verdi and Chopin – focus on popular Romantic-era repertoire, while the other five feature music written in the 1970s and are typical of the non-classical pieces that regularly featured in Fiedler’s Boston Pops. The conductor himself would certainly have played down the distinctions within such a “span of musical poles” and his Pops audiences no doubt found the mixture an enjoyable one when heard in the exciting context of a live concert.
The performances themselves are certainly never less than well-executed – as one should certainly expect from the moonlighting players of the Boston Symphony Orchestra – as well as generally enjoyable. The trouble is, though, that Finlandia, Vltava and the rest have been recorded so often before that there isn’t really much that Fiedler can add to make his accounts particularly distinctive. Indeed, one gets the impression that he really isn’t trying to make them so. When, for instance, so much of this music is, in the 19th century manner, related to specific times and/or places, it’s somewhat disconcerting to find that they are so little differentiated. There’s insufficient icy Finnish chill in Fiedler’s Finlandia, not enough pseudo-orientalism in the slaves’ ballet from Aida and a desperate lack of authentic Slavonic colour in the Má vlast episode. In short, Fiedler’s accounts are all very Boston.
The tracks of popular 1970s music are also well executed and would no doubt have gone down well in concert. Pleasant though they undoubtedly are, it is difficult to see why anyone other than diehard Fiedler fans would prefer them to John Williams himself conducting his own Jaws and Star wars scores or the original versions of Sondheim, Streisand or Sedaka.
In Fiedler’s own time his recordings were very successful. I can easily imagine them being bought by people who had attended his live concerts, heard his radio broadcasts or seen him on what he himself rather quaintly called “Television” (did anyone else then use the capital letter T?). Creative promotion meant that Fiedler was not only commercially successful but was a real and positive force in promoting light classical music in the USA and beyond. As such, he deserves commemoration – though I’m not sure that re-releasing such material as this is the way to do it, for I doubt whether a fish-and-fowl CD like this one will stand up to repeated playing in full at home. Some listeners may well, I suspect, get into the habit of switching their machines off after the end of track 8, just as others may be switching on at the beginning of track 9. Unfortunately, that rather defeats Fiedler’s own stated philosophy and rationale.
On the commemorative theme, by the way, it’s actually interesting to note that after Arthur Fiedler’s death in 1979 the city of Boston erected two memorials to its famous musical son. The first was a conventional – though notably large and undeniably rather impressive - aluminium sculpture of his head sited on the Charles River Esplanade where many of the Boston Pops outdoor concerts had been given. The second, although initially seeming an odd choice, appears in retrospect to be rather fitting. In the UK, “Storrow Drive” is the sort of name given to a quiet suburban road of unassuming semi-detached houses. In Boston, however, it’s one of the city’s major cross-town routes. Arthur Fiedler’s second municipal memorial, it turns out, is a footbridge over that road. And, come to think of it, the image of a bridge spanning the opposite sides of a divide really does suit him rather well.
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957) Finlandia op. 26 no. 7 (1899-1900) [8:33] BedřichSMETANA (1824-1884) Vltava (from Má vlast) (1874) [14:20] AntonínDVOŘÁK(1841-1904) Slavonic dance in C major, op. 46 no. 1 (1878) [4:20] Slavonic dance in C major, op. 72 no. 7 (1886) [3:24] Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Wedding march (from A midsummer night’s dream) (1842) [5:36] Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921)
Pantomime (from Hänsel und Gretel) (1891-1892) [9:13] Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Ballet music from Aida (1871) [10:25] Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Polonaise no. 3 in A major, op. 40 no. 1 (Military) (1838) orch. Glazunov [4:22] John WILLIAMS (b. 1932)
Theme from Star wars (1977) [3:42] Stephen SONDHEIM (b. 1930) Send in the clowns (from A little night music) (1973) arr. Knight [4:34] John WILLIAMS (b. 1932)
Theme from Jaws (1975) [1:53] Barbra STREISAND (b. 1942) Evergreen (1976) [4:13] Neil SEDAKA (b. 1939) Love will keep us together (1973) arr. Hayman [3:17]
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