American Light Music. HERBERT: Pan American (arr. Otto Langey). American
Rhapsody. Irish Rhapsody. Naughty Marietta, excerpts (arr. Harold Sanford). The
Fortune Teller, excerpts (arr. Langey). GOTTSCHALK (arr. Hershey Kay): Cakewalk Ballet Suite.
The Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy.
Pristine Audio PASC356 TT: 69:10.
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Waltzes and high-steppin'. Eugene Ormandy didn't disdain the popular.
Indeed, he conducted light music very well and with gusto and, of the
of the Fifties and Sixties Big Five (Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia,
Boston, and New York) obtained the greatest popularity of them all, save
Leonard Bernstein. Szell, Monteux, and Munch may have had respect, but
Ormandy was loved. This CD from Pristine gives us at least one classic
performance re-engineered in superb sound.
Victor Herbert, born in Ireland and raised in Germany, received thorough
musical training. He became a cellist in great demand and began to compose.
He emigrated to the United States and added conducting to his skills.
He continued to compose, including among his works a cello concerto that
Dvorák to write his own. Herbert's star, which burned brightly in
its day and made him a wealthy man, has dimmed almost to extinction, a
process notable after World War I. He became one of the founders of ASCAP,
to provide intellectual-property protection to composers and lyricists.
The general public today may still recognize Naughty Marietta's "Ah!
Sweet Mystery of Life" and Babes in Toyland's "Toyland" and "March
of the Toys."
The works here are essentially medleys, much like the clichéd Broadway
overture. Hearing the show tunes before and after the curtain goes up,
and possibly reprised in the finale enables an audience to remember them
and possibly like them enough to purchase the sheet music or the recording
after they leave the theater. "Pan American" Herbert wrote
for the 1901 Pan American Exposition, held in Buffalo, New York. In A-B-A
it uses two melodies which have little to do with one another. The first,
a brisk march, probably represented the can-do spirit of North America,
while a lazily syncopated habanera stood for South America (the Exposition
tried to include each of the Americas). Herbert sets the second tune
with all the understanding of Latin-American musical rhythm one expects
an Irishman raised in Germany.
The American and Irish Rhapsodies are essentially the same piece -- a
medley of national and folk airs -- and differ only in the tunes used.
20th-Century Fox fanfares, American Rhapsody sings "Hail, Columbia!," an
over-the-top "Old Folks at Home," "The Girl I Left Behind
Me," military fanfares, "Dixie," the Ives favorite "Columbia,
the Gem of the Ocean" and winds up with "The Star-Spangled Banner," which
despite all the brass, cymbals, and swirling strings, seems pretty tame
compared to Stravinsky's arrangement. Irish Rhapsody runs through tunes
I don't know the names of, with the exceptions of "Believe me if all
those endearing young charms" and "The pulse of an Irishman," but
have heard before, mainly in the soundtrack to the movie The Quiet
Despite the routine of much of the music, Herbert nevertheless comes up
with some moments so inspired that they show up the rest of the scores: "The
Girl I Left Behind Me" tootles along to fife and drum, while an
Irish war song barbarically marches over a reed drone.
Born in New Orleans and educated in Paris, Louis Moreau Gottschalk became
one of the great piano virtuosos of his day, as well as a conductor and
composer. His music divides in two -- sentimental frou-frou like "The
Dying Poet" and scores based on the African-based dances of the
Caribbean Triangle (New Orleans, Cuba, Haiti). He concertized in all
and heard the music first-hand. The sappy stuff has disappeared down
history's oubliette while the dances have survived, in large part due
Kay's Cakewalk ballet, which has become a light classic. Kay studied
composition with Randall Thompson at the Curtis Institute and found remunerative
mainly as an arranger and orchestrator of musicals. He became one of
the pre-eminent arrangers on Broadway, along with Robert Russell Bennett
Don Walker. I love his Broadway work, even when the musicals he worked
on may not be up to snuff. He also wrote the occasional ballet for George
Balanchine, of which Cakewalk is one. At the time, Gottschalk had become
more or less a dead letter. Cakewalk helped revive interest. (Incidentally,
for a good and entertaining biography of Gottschalk, try S. Frederick
Kay orchestrates in a Modern manner, as opposed to a historically-correct
one, and it sounds wonderful. Unlike Herbert, Kay never lets up on invention
and wit. Bits of Charles Ives's "General William Booth Enters into
Heaven" and Stravinsky's Petrushka, among other snippets,
flit through. Legendary producer and engineer Mark Obert-Thorne points
out the fact that
Kay included traditional minstrel tunes in his score. He also argues
that Kay orchestrates in a "Broadway" manner. Certain sections
-- notably "Sleight of Feet" -- bear him out. But overall the
scoring, though clean and economical and suited to a pit orchestra, has
common with Piston than with the usual Broadway orchestrator. Mostly,
the Broadway manner is Hershey Kay's Broadway, which included work on
Bernstein's On the Town, Candide, Peter Pan, and 1600 Pennsylvania
Avenue, none of
them exactly Gals and Gams. The non-Gottschalk provides respite while
the Gottschalk injects the score with fizz and animal spirits.
Ormandy, because he loved schmaltz with a true heart, tends
to save Victor Herbert from himself. As one example, "Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life" (which
Madeline Kahn sang while having sex with the monster in Young Frankenstein)
teeters over, but doesn't quite fall into, Sugar Canyon. Cakewalk, however,
gets an electric performance, with Ormandy and his Philadelphians digging
into almost every syncopation with vim. The sound in both improves immeasurably
over the mono originals. Indeed, at times you might swear the disc spoke
stereo, so rounded and clear is the sound. Hats off to Pristine once
S.G.S. (September 2014)