Ferde Grofé is best known as the composer of the Grand Canyon Suite.
So this compilation of equally evocative, yet less familiar music is most
welcome particularly in such energetic, vibrant readings as these by William
Stromberg who, through his Classic Film Score recordings for Naxos's sister
company Marco Polo, is no stranger to film music fans.
Of immediate interest is Grofé's Hollywood Suite. This is ballet
music, performed by a large orchestra, tracing the production of a typical Hollywood
musical; the heroine is the stand-in with the real talent. The star, seen only
in close-up, gets the adoration, while the stand-in does all the hard work.
She goes home forgotten as the cleaners sweep the studio floor ready for tomorrow's
takes. The suite is presented in six movements. The first is entitled, 'On the
set – Sweepers' with the sweeper (cue: sand block) in the morning preparing
the empty sound stage 'unconcerned as the swinging pendulum of a clock'. The
orchestration not only literally captures this sweeping but it also intimates
through its brassy, jazzy abrasiveness, the false glitzy world of Hollywood,
that the understudy/double/stand-in has entered. She remains attracted by its
glamour, tamed by her hunger for success and still hopeful as her innocent,
dreamy music for 'The Stand-In' plainly shows. The mood is brought down to earth
with the mercurial 'Carpenters and Electricians' as they scurry around the set
to scatty fanfares and skittish xylophone figures. 'The Preview' is all sophisticated
gloss, the sort of fluffy music Waxman or Steiner would have scored for a romantic
comedy. 'Production Number' is just that, the sort of dance routine one associates
with any Hollywood musical, glamorous, scintillating; just listen to those tap-dancing
feet. The final movement, Director- Star-Ensemble has all the grandiose portent,
the sweeping romanticism of all those big Golden Age scores: heroic, romantic
brass, cascading strings – sheer razzmatazz. This suite really leaves you breathless
with admiration – a huge nostalgic wallow. Grofé's Hollywood Suite
very enthusiastically played by the Bournemouth SO is worth double the price
of this album alone.
And yet there is more! The Hudson River Suite is another wonder from
the magic colourful pen of this American composer of the musical travelogues.
The opening movement, 'The River' is a fond, almost patriotically fervent evocation
of the lower reaches of the Hudson River taking in its "broad, sweeping
majestic flow before it reaches the Atlantic taking in the colourful cliffs
and woodlands of the palisades along its shores." The second movement,
in heroic mould, 'Henry Hudson' is a musical portrait of the renowned explorer.
'Rip Van Winkle' is one of Grofé's musical pantomimes/caricatures. You
hear Rip's dog barking (literally) as Rip whistles for him. You meet the dwarves
playing nine-pins with the rolling of their balls sounding like thunder. Rip's
twenty years slumber follows after he joins in their festivities. 'Albany Night
Boat' reflects the moonlight night aboard the boat. As it glides smoothly over
the waters, a small jazz band, on deck, begins to play romantically, nostalgically,
and upbeat amid laughter and dancing. The concluding movement, 'New York,' brings
commotion and excitement, the turbulence of heavy traffic and big business.
A proud, unconquerable conclusion.
'Death Valley Suite' is another extraordinarily realistic sound portrait.
Death Valley, a bleak and beautiful wilderness, is located largely in Southern
California. The first movement 'Funeral Mountains' is painted in shimmering
tones that reflect the heat haze and the region's desolate grandeur taking in
both the merciless rays of high noon and the purple shades of night. In '49er
Emigrant Train' you hear the crack of the whips the pleading, protesting neighing
of the horses, the creaking of dried axles and the scraping of the wagon wheels
as the settlers toil over this hostile landscape, then come the injuns!!
Yet in spite of all these difficulties, the indomitable spirit of the pioneers
urges them onwards. In 'Desert Water Hole', they are exhausted and parched,
suddenly the oxen smell water; and animals, men and women, dash for the waterhole.
Everybody celebrates enthusiastically – all this is vividly realised in Grofé's
rousing music. But yet another crisis looms – a 'Sand Storm'. Grofé's
wind machine, surging strings and rattles spin and spiral the sand to engulf
the pioneers yet they emerge triumphant, stronger for their ordeal to build
a new civilisation in the wilderness.
Magnificent over-the-top; but hugely enjoyable, vividly descriptive music
played with all the stops out by film music conductor Stromberg and recorded
in some of the best Naxos sound I have yet heard. Don't hesitate, buy it before
it sells out!