The First Day of Spring
Belle of the Ball
Governor Bradford March
The Captains and the Kings
The Golden Years
The Classical Jukebox
Piano Concerto in C
Catherine Moore, David McCallum & John Blackshaw (trumpets)
Michael Pearce, Derek Hannigan, Jenny McLaren & Neville Graham (clarinets)
Jeffrey Biegel (piano)
BBC Concert Orchestra
Recorded 24 & 25 April 2006 in The Colosseum, Watford, England
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: January 2008
CD No: NAXOS 8.559313
Duration: 62 minutes
Even if the titles of these pieces mean nothing, the chances are high you’ll know some of them. Many of Leroy Anderson’s orchestral miniatures are classics, instantly memorable and enduring.
Naxos’s plan is to issue five discs that encompass all of Anderson’s orchestral music, a mix of ‘standards’ and less-familiar pieces and including ones that the composer held back. This first release begins with the perky refrains of Bugler’s Holiday, which puts three trumpeters through their paces. Clarinet Candy features four clarinets (liquorice sticks!) jazzing it up. This contrasts with the gently seductive strains of Blue Tango, the swirling waltz that is Belle of the Ball, the nostalgia-tinged The Golden Years, the snoozing Balladette and the square-dancing Chicken Reel – a real old knees-up!
Leroy Anderson’s music is unfailingly tuneful, full of variety, and superbly orchestrated. That’s probably all you need to know. Fans of Eric Coates needn’t hesitate – expect more swing and razzmatazz from Anderson – although both composers seem to have latched onto Wagner’s “Tannhäuser”, a shared fanfare, Anderson’s launching The Classical Jukebox.
Anderson’s scores are humorous, easeful and endearing; all here are attended to by the quick-witted and versatile members of the BBC Concert Orchestra under Anderson devotee Leonard Slatkin (who recorded 25 of Anderson’s gems in the mid-1990s for RCA with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra). His return to this music finds enthusiasm and style undiminished.
Anderson’s Piano Concerto – from 1953 – was withdrawn and although the Massachusetts-born composer (1908-1975) never got around to a planned revision, his widow released it and it has been doing the rounds since 1989. It’s what it is and passes 20 minutes agreeably – it might be termed ‘sub-Rachmaninov’ in the sense of Warsaw Concerto, Cornish Rhapsody and similar pieces; but Anderson’s example is neither film music nor Stravinsky, despite the neo-classical moments. The concerto glows, has at least one ‘big’ tune, the mid-point of the first movement is a jazzy fugue, the slow movement is nocturnal, before being interrupted by a trip down Mexico way, and the finale is a fireworks display.
Jeffrey Biegel is the consummate piano soloist and the trumpeters and clarinettists of the BBCCO join in the fun, the whole band relishing the sheer invention and colours of Anderson’s imagination. The recording is fine, a little manipulated in the generous acoustic of the Colosseum, but generally well managed. This should prove to be both an enjoyable and illuminating series.