Regular readers will recognise the name William Stromberg as the conductor of the majority of the releases in Marco Polo's ongoing Classic Film Scores series. Marco Polo is the full price companion label to Naxos, and clearly the cinematic nature of Ferde Grofé's music is of great appeal to this conductor; and the huge orchestral forces and brilliant colours offer a marvellous opportunity to demonstrate new sound technologies of SACD.
The Grand Canyon Suite has been recorded numerous times, so Stromberg faces stiff competition and it has to be said that there are more persuasive performances. Bernstein on Sony SMK 63086 is infectiously witty in his portrait of 'On the Trail' and Kunzel's Telarc recording (CD 80086) has power and splendour aplenty, even offering a second performance of Cloudburst with real thunderclaps as a bonus. I also retain an affection for Antal Dorati's Decca recording (410 110-2). Having said all that Stromberg's reading has plenty of guts and character and it sounds very thrilling – the surround sound really involving the listener.
Stromberg's commitment and enthusiasm makes a strong case for Grofé's Mississippi Suite which is less well-known and candidly less interesting. Its opening movement 'Father of the Waters' is a broad sweeping evocation seeking to suggest the river's natural grandeur; but Indian calls and negro folktunes banalities don't help. The most interesting movement is the very witty portrait of 'Huckleberry Finn' with Stromberg wild and mischievously boisterous. 'Old Creole Days' is more restful a sweet elegy for the old days in moonlit Louisiana gardens (and rather sub-Delius). Finally, 'Mardi Gras' is exuberant high jinks with folksongs and a favourite old ballad (the name of which has persistently escaped me) souring proudly against a New Orleans carnival backdrop.
Even less well-known is the 'Niagara Falls Suite' another musical 'picture post card'
-and another noisy spectacular. 'Thunder of the Waters' captures the grandeur of the high falls as they cascade downwards, together with a suggestion of their watery smokiness. Implicit in this movement are Indian motifs which play a major part in the 'Devil's Hole Massacre' – a movement that stands-up to any similar western movie music by Steiner or Tiomkin and recalls an Indian ambush of 1763 when a British train of 25 wagons was obliterated. 'Honeymooners' adds a taste of romance and steers the music into calmer waters before the final 'Power of Niagara' plunges us back into even greater turbulence depicting industrial might associated with a local Niagara hydro-electric plant complete with sirens and anvil strokes.
Big, big Technicolor music; great fun even in its banal moments conducted with great verve by movie music specialist, William T. Stromberg.