CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
13 AUGUST 2008
The albums below are "Classical Releases Of Current Key Significance," or "CROCKS", if you will. To purchase an album, simply click on one of the Web site retail outlets given in the "AVAILABILITY" table under the write-up.
Jongen: Org Wks Cpte V1 (incl 2 trs); Doornhein/SanMarBas & NotDamLaek Orgs [DEVers]
AUDIOPHILE (2 CDs)
Jongen: Org Wks Cpte V2 (incl 7 trs); Doornhein/SanMarBas & NotDamLaek Orgs [DEVers]
AUDIOPHILE (2 CDs)
Back in 1961 it was the inimitable Virgil Fox who brought the music of Joseph Jongen (1873-1953) to public attention with his spectacular performances and recording of that Belgian composer's Sinfonie concertante for Organ and Orchestra (1926, written for the 1928 inauguration of the enlarged Wanamaker Grand Court Organ at what's now a Macy’s in Philadelphia). As it turns out, that wasn't Jongen's only piece involving the organ because there are others for that instrument alone, all of which are included in these two groundbreaking albums (two CDs each) from the distinguished D.E. Versluis label. In addition to being an outstanding pianist and conductor, Jongen was also considered one of the finest organists in Belgium. With his extensive tours throughout Europe, he established an international reputation, and could count such other great organist-composers as Alexandre Guilmant, Louis Vierne and Charles-Marie Widor among his associates. Like their music, Jongen’s is of romantic persuasion, finely-crafted and shows the influences of César Franck and Richard Wagner. There's even a hint of French impressionism ŕ la Debussy and Ravel in his later works.
A note about the organs chosen for these recordings; while all three will probably be new to most, they are ideally suited to this music. The largest is the main one at the Sankt Marien Basilica (SM) in Kevelaer, Germany, which was originally built by Ernst Seifert of Cologne in 1905-07. Then there's the grand organ of the Notre-Dame of Laeken Church (NG) in Belgium. It was constructed in 1871-74 by Pierre Schyven, whose tonal style was much influenced by the great Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. The smallest is the choir organ at this same church (NC). A tiny, but highly articulate instrument, it's the work of Salomon van Bever who completed it in the early 1900s. Please see the very informative album notes for detailed information on all three.
Disc one of the first volume opens with Jongen’s rousing, all-stops-out Prelude and Fugue (1941-43, SM). This was the composer's next to last organ work and one of his greatest. It's right up there with the best of Louis Vierne and Marcel Dupré. The Menuet-Scherzo (1917, SM) that follows is a charming romanticization of the classical minuet. The next three selections were originally for harmonium (1909), but when played on a pipe organ as they are here (NC), sound much more substantial without the wheeziness which characterizes the smaller instrument. The five pieces dating from 1893-96 (SM) include a Franckian Offertoire of stately portance and a pastel Pastorale that ends with some lovely tintinnabulations from a bell stop on the Seifert organ. Standout transcriptions of the prelude to J.S. Bach's third partita for solo violin (circa 1935, SM) and the air from his third orchestral suite (1896, SM) follow. The CD ends magnificently with Jongen's Fugue in the Style of Bach (1897, SM), where the old master’s Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor (BMW 542) lies just below the surface.
The second CD begins with the very early Piece for Grand Organ (1892, SM). The spirit of the great Belgian organ teacher Jaak Nikolaas Lemmens (1823-1881) is very much alive in this festive opus. Improvisation-Pastorale (1941, SM) is highly chromatic and reminiscent of Louis Vierne's more meditative creations. That bell stop (see above) appears again at the very end. Pensée d'automne (1915, SM) is of an auburn hue and quite impressionistic sounding. The next four selections are from Pičces pour harmonium dans tous les tons (1921), and the only ones the composer ever completed out of an eventual twenty-four implied by the title. Again, they're much more colorful on even a small organ like the one here (NC), which may explain why Jongen abandoned the project. The next four pieces make up his Opus 37 (1910-11, SM) and demonstrate Jongen's love of the canon. Highlights include a charming Improvisation-Caprice and a Choral," where canonical is descriptive of both the form and mood of the latter. Another three harmonium selections (1911, NC) are further examples of what an elegant miniaturist the composer was. Scherzetto (1938, SM), Légende (1930, completion by Anton Doornhein, SM) and Toccata (1935, SM) close out this disc. While Légende is the essence of simplicity, the other two pieces are not for beginners and end the first volume in a blaze of glory.
The first disc of volume two begins with four outstanding transcriptions (NG). The opening one, dating from 1895, is of the prelude to the oratorio Saint Francis (1890) by Belgian composer Edgar Tinel (1854-1912). It makes for a powerful organ work and peaks one's curiosity about the original (maybe a future project for the D.E. Versluis label). The next two (1890) are lovely organ settings of two short, highly lyrical Songs Without Words by Felix Mendelssohn. The fourth (1895) is of Fugue d'orchestre (1894) by the composer's composition teacher at the Ličge Conservatory, Jean-Théodore Radoux (1835-1911). An imposing work, it builds gradually from the ground up into a towering contrapuntal structure of enormous proportions that can't help but impress.
Two lovely pieces, each called Feuille (1917, NG), are next followed by the simple, graceful Petite Prélude (1937, NG). Then there are another three superb transcriptions (circa 1897, NG) of Edvard Grieg's music, including the "Sarabande" and "Gavotte" from The Holberg Suite (1884-85) as well as "Ase's Death" from Peer Gynt (1874-75). 20 Préludes et versets (1890, NG), the composer's earliest organ music, is a collection of tiny melodic fragments averaging about eight bars each for use in church services. A very utilitarian piece, it should be of great interest to any organists reading this. A chromatically expressive Larghetto (1911, NG) and overpowering Offertoire sur l'Alma Redemptoris Mater (1913, NG) conclude this disc with majesty.
The companion CD opens with Marche religeuse (1911, SM), which has a deceptively subdued beginning that builds to an earthshaking climax. Five reflective mood pieces follow (SM): the reverent Pričre (1938), impressionistic Chant de May (1917), blissful Élégie (1890), gently oscillating Petite Pičce (1937) and funereal Prélude élégiaque (1915). Originally for harmonium, In Memoriam (1919) is a cycle of four somber pieces that are Gregorian-based. As done here on the organ (NC), they take on a poignancy that makes one wonder if they might have been a response to the horrors of World War I (1914-1918). The mood turns more optimistic with the festive Gaudeamas: Verset pour la fęte de l'Assomption (sometime after 1943, SM), which is also Gregorian-based and Jongen's last solo organ work.
A peaceful Elévation (1891, SM) and sublime, Franckian Pastorale (1905, SM) set the stage for the final selection on this disc. It’s the Sonata Eroďca (1930, SM), which most consider the composer's crowning achievement for "The Pope of Instruments." In a single movement lasting a little over fifteen minutes, it's Jongen's most progressive work and shows the influences of Franz Liszt and Marcel Dupré.
It might best be described as a fantastic theme and variations where the forces of harmony and counterpoint do battle with one another. It begins powerfully with massive declamatory chords that hint at the main theme to come. These suddenly subside into a peaceful episode where the theme appears in full. It's then subjected to a sequence of ingenious variations that range from contrapuntally agitated to melodically tranquil. The concluding coda must be one of the most exciting endings in all of romantic organ music literature.
Dutch organist Anton Doornheim (born 1960) may not be that familiar to most, but his credentials are impeccable, and the fact that he's won many prestigious awards is certainly in keeping with his splendid performances here. When it comes to Jongen's music, he's obviously more than just an organist with exceptional technical abilities, because his feeling for how it should be registrated and played is outstanding. We're very lucky to have what will probably be definitive recordings of this music for some time to come.
From the microphone set-up standpoint, these CDs represented a triple challenge to the D.E. Versluis recording engineers. But they've met it head-on with four of the finest sounding organ discs you could ever ask for. In each of the churches the spread and depth of sound is ideal. There’s just the right amount of reverberation and superb bass that plumbs the depths without becoming boomy. Also there's no sign of any high frequency glare in even the most intense full organ passages. Both of these albums certainly qualify as exceptional demonstration quality releases.
The notes for both are beautifully written and translated (CPO take note). They provide a wealth of information about all aspects of the music as well as the organist and churches where these recordings were made. They’re required reading!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y080813, Y080812)
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Lajtha: Stg Qts Cpte V1 (1, 3 & 4); Auer Qt [Hung]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Lajtha: Stg Qts Cpte V2 (5, 7 & 9); Auer Qt [Hung]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Anyone liking the string quartets of Béla Bartók (1881-1945) will be delighted to discover these by his compatriot László Lajtha (1892-1963). He shared Bartók and Zoltán Kodály's (1882-1967) interest in Eastern Europe folk music, and was closely associated with their efforts to search out and transcribe Hungarian peasant songs and dances. Whereas Bartók and Kodály were more interested in songs, László concentrated on instrumental material. Either way, Magyar influences abound in the music of all three. It should be noted though, that whereas his fellow composers actually quote folk tunes, Lajtha is more circumspect, preferring to simply capture their spirit within the bounds of his own compositional style. You'll also find Gallic elements present in his works, which is not surprising considering he studied with Vincent d'Indy (1851-1931) in Paris.
An extremely versatile musician, Lajtha was an outstanding musicologist, teacher, pianist and conductor as well as a highly prolific composer. He wrote in every genre, and over the course of his musical career produced a number of string quartets. Six of them are included in these first two volumes of Hungaroton's ongoing survey devoted to all ten.
Volume one opens with his first quartet (1923), which is in two movements that are a double fugue and rondo respectively. While hardcore romantics may find this piece a bit academic on first listening, subsequent hearings will reveal what an incredible craftsman Lajtha was. It opens with the old familiar B-A-C-H motif (the notes Bb, A, C and B) originally used by Johann Sebastian in his Art of the fugue. Interestingly enough, this would also figure heavily in another contemporary string quartet by Anton Webern (his Opus 28 commissioned by wealthy American music patron Elisabeth Sprague Coolidge and written in 1937-38), where it's the germinal idea for the tone row underlying that work. But unlike the dodecaphonic Webern, Lajtha's is strictly tonal, and a contrapuntal masterpiece that would have earned him an "A+" from old J.S., had he been his teacher. You'll also notice the presence of Magyar-tinged riffs and rhythms in this complex opus.
Lajtha’s third quartet (1929) made his name well known all over Europe as well as the United States. It so impressed Mrs. Coolidge (see above) that she had her chamber music foundation give him a financial award for it. In five movements, it shows that even at this early stage of his career he had totally mastered the art form. The opening chromatically pensive andante and folksy hyperactive allegro follow each other without a break. Curiously enough, there’s a brief allusion in the latter [track-4, beginning at 00:32] to the same Russian folk melody Beethoven quotes in the third movement of his Second Rasumovsky Quartet (No. 8, 1805-06). The middle commodo is a whimsical fugue that's a respite before the concluding two movements, which are played attacca like the first. They are respectively elegiac and energetic with more hints of that Russian tune in both. The quartet ends in antsy fashion with the same three notes that began the second movement.
The fourth quartet (1930) is again in five movements. This is the most progressive of the six here and characterized by the same type of adventurous string writing found in Bartok's later ones. The opening allegro presents contrasting melodic ideas, one driven and the other melodic, which are then elaborately developed. There are more hints of that Russian ditty we heard in the previous quartet, which makes one wonder if Lajtha might have been preoccupied with it.
The andante is a muted, dark affair that despite a brighter central episode creates a feeling of angst in the listener. A cheeky, engaging scherzo (not 1'12" as indicated in the album notes, but 5'11" in length) with one of those Bartokian busy-bee endings follows. The next movement is a clever Lajhta creation where a plodding, sad tune alternates with a fast, fanciful one. Counterpoint once again reigns supreme in the perky finale. It contains more partial references to that Russian theme, and ends this exceptional quartet in fantastical fashion with humorous pizzicato “boing-boings” in the last measures.
The fifth quartet (1934) begins the second volume and is again in five movements like its two immediate predecessors. A bit of an oddity, it's actually a set of five études designed to teach the technical and aesthetic fine points of good quartet playing. The opening study is a rhythmic exercise replete with rich string sonorities, while the second is a waltz-lullaby devoted to the art of spinning out a melody. The last three, which are a fleeting scherzo, polyphonic andante and pizzicato march, are lessons in precision playing. In addition to its pedagogic usefulness, there’s also a Gebrauchsmusik ŕ la Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) aspect to this quartet.
Like Prokofiev and Shostakovich before him, from the 1950s on Lajtha found himself under increasing pressure from the communist authorities to produce music that would appeal to the masses. This may well explain why he temporarily abandoned his rigorously progressive style when he wrote the cheerful, lighthearted seventh and ninth quartets. That's not to say these are inferior works, because, just as his Russian counterparts had done, he manages to come up with immediately accessible music that's still highly original.
In the standard four movements, the seventh (1950) opens with an airy serenade followed by a searching, melodic slow movement. The latter sounds ethnically inspired, and is as close as Lajtha ever comes to directly quoting folk material. A winsome minuet and a capriciously skittering finale, whose opening bars are a bit "Lone Rangerish," provide a facetious conclusion to the piece.
Again in the usual four movements, the composer dedicated his ninth quartet (1953) to his children, and consequently there's an innocence and playfulness here that's rarely found in his music. A charming dance-like movement comes first, and then a gorgeous, searching lento. A graceful minuet that could almost be out of a Mozart or Haydn quartet, is next. A ditzy tarantella, which the album notes claim has Transylvanian connections, is the final toy in this imaginative Magyar "Boite ŕ joujoux."
The prize-winning Auer String Quartet gives authoritative, totally committed performances of everything. They certainly have the technical qualifications to play this music, as well as the ability to sort out and make meaningful the more contrapuntally complex parts of these scores.
The sonics are excellent, and the string tone absolutely convincing. However, the Hungaroton studio where these recordings were made must have been fairly small because the sound is pretty dry. One can't help feeling these quartets would have been even more impressive in a more reverberant venue.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080811, P080810)
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Van Gilse: Syms 1 & 2 (rev 1928); Porcelijn/Neth SO [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Conductor David Porcelijn serves up more Dutch treats (see the newsletters of 16 April 2007 and 15 February 2008) on this latest disc from CPO with two symphonies by Jan van Gilse (1881-1944). His music was in many ways a victim of the two World wars. More specifically, anti-German sentiment in the Netherlands brought about by World War I (1914-18) militated against its being played because he'd studied and worked extensively in Germany.
Then in the years surrounding World War II (1939-45) and the German conquest of Holland (1940), his strong anti-Nazi convictions and work for the resistance, got him in trouble with the occupational authorities, again preventing public performances of his music. But now with this enterprising release from CPO, we have recordings of his first two symphonies (there are four and fragments of a fifth), which are late-romantic treasures that have gathered dust for far too long.
It's very hard to believe the first symphony (1901) is a student effort, because the craftsmanship, inspired sense of melodic invention and brilliant orchestration are more in keeping with a composer two or three times as old as Van Gilse was when he wrote it. In the standard four movements, it begins with a theme, which sounds amazingly like something out of an Elgar symphony (see the newsletters of 15 September 2007 and 15 March 2008), except Sir Edward wouldn't write any for another six years! A second melodic idea, which calls to mind Dvorák, is then introduced and given a rather Brahmsian development along with the first. There are some exclamatory thwacks on the timpani, which seem to be a van Gilse trademark, before the movement ends with a muscular coda.
The following adagio is built on a lovely, yearning melody that's interrupted by several tearful episodes. The scherzo consists of a catchy, rhythmically angular motif, alternating with a couple of highly lyrical ideas that might be folk related. The spirited finale begins with couple of engaging, complementary themes, which are then masterfully developed. Shortly before the end [track-4, beginning at 05:31], a stately "big tune" based on the opening ideas is introduced by the horn (shades of that memorable horn motif towards the end of the Brahms first symphony). This is worked into a dramatic coda that builds in intensity only to fade away, ending this precocious piece in a state of grace.
It's very clear from the opening theme on the solo bassoon that the second symphony (1902, revised 1928) is going to be a bird of a different feather. The influence of Mahler, particular his third symphony, which van Gilse had heard several times just before he wrote this, is evident in the dramatic content and orchestration. In three movements, the opening one is heroic music that could be a miniature tone poem describing the exploits of some legendary hero. By the way, there are more of those timpani thwacks (see above) as well as a couple on the bass drum.
The central intermezzo is some of the most charming romantic music to come from the pen of a Dutch composer, and a perfectly judged change of pace before the emotionally explosive finale. The latter is the longest and most advanced music on this disc. Stylistically speaking, van Gilse had obviously come a long way in just a year's time with this deeply felt movement. It might best be described as a symphonic characterization of the triumph of hope over despair, somewhat in the same spirit as those tone poems by Mieczyslaw Karlowicz (1876-1909) that deal so effectively with the human condition.
As with his Röntgen and Badings discs (see the newsletters referenced in the lead paragraph), David Porcelijn gives us more definitive renditions of rarely heard Dutch symphonies. Born in Holland, he's one of today's most distinguished conductors with a commanding grasp of this music, as evidenced by the superb performances he draws from the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra. Now how about the other two van Gilse symphonies, David!
The recordings are good from the soundstage aspect, but there's a bit of grain in the strings that would deny this demonstration status with "pointy-eared" audiophiles having unforgiving sound systems. But, don't let that stop you from acquiring this release, because it’s another case where musical considerations greatly outweigh any sonic shortcomings.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080809)
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Weinberg, M. (Vainberg): Vc Fant, 3 Concs (fl, cl); Soloists/Svedlund/Gothen SO [Chandos (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE (1 SACD)
These exceptional concertante works are by a composer who fled to the old Soviet Union when the Nazis overran his native Poland in 1939. Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) had just graduated from the Warsaw Conservatory and was lucky to escape with his life, considering all the other members of his family were murdered (burned alive) by Hitler's attacking forces. Weinberg first settled in Minsk, but after a couple of years, the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, forcing him to once again run for his life, this time to Tashkent.
His stay in Russia has lead to confusion over the correct English spelling of his name, which transliterated from the Russian into the Latin alphabet became Moisey Vainberg, or even Vaynberg. Consequently, although he preferred Weinberg in later life, the other two variants are also still in use today.
In 1943 a Russian composer friend of his, Yuri Levitin (1912-1993), sent Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) the score of Mieczyslaw's first symphony. It greatly impressed him, and he soon got the Polish expatriate an official invitation to come to Moscow. He immediately accepted, and spent the rest of his life there, where he became a very close friend of the older composer. When you hear his music, you'll understand Shostakovich's high regard for him, and why his reputation grows with each passing year. By the way, he would complete another twenty-one symphonies, as well as four for chamber orchestra.
Weinberg took what was for him an unusually long time to write the Fantasia for Cello and Orchestra (1951-53). But this was time well spent, because it’s first-class Weinberg that’s more direct as well as melodic than most of his music, and consequently immediately approachable. It may be that it reflects the principles of Zhdanovism being exerted back then by Soviet cultural authorities on composers to write music with mass appeal. In one continuous movement consisting of three connected arches that alternate between slow and fast, its thematic elements seem folk inspired. The first arch is built on a gently swaying theme, while the second is a spirited, dancelike episode with an anguished cadenza for the cello. The latter serves as an introduction to the concluding section, which is a winsome reverie that's thematically related to the opening arch. It brings this lovely work to a melancholy ending.
Both of the concertos for flute and orchestra that follow are in the standard three movements. The first (1961) opens with an allegro reminiscent of one of those capriciously galloping movements in a Shostakovich symphony, and abounds with opportunities for some fancy flute work by the soloist. A pensive largo is next, followed by an airy allegro, which will again recall the music of Shostakovich. Tonguing ornamentations on the flute and brilliant orchestral effects give an ethereal finale to this whimsical piece.
The second concerto (1987) has a neoclassical asceticism indicative of a more serious agenda. The opening might well be a musical characterization of a summer day, and has an affinity with some of the more subdued passages in Nielsen's flute concerto (1926). However, contrapuntal clouds soon form, and the movement takes on a sinister tone, ending with "Little Red Riding Flute" skipping innocently through the woods. In the largo, the soloist hovers like a silver bird over a foreboding primeval orchestral forest. The finale begins in dance-like fashion with more reminiscences of the Nielsen. But the music becomes more troubled, and as in Shostakovich's last symphony (No. 15, 1971), there are strange references to other well known pieces (The Dance of the Blessed Spirits" from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice and the last movement of J.S. Bach's second orchestral suite for flute and strings). The concerto then ends quietly, leaving one with the feeling that all is deceptively well.
The disc concludes with the concerto for clarinet and strings (1970), which must rank as one of Weinberg's finest works. In three movements that follow the usual fast-slow-fast pattern, the first two are admirably rigorous and darkly rhapsodic respectively. Again the music of Nielsen comes to mind, particularly his clarinet concerto (1928) and fifth symphony (1921-22). The concluding allegretto begins with a five-note motif that may recall the opening of the polka from Jaromír Weinberger's opera Schwanda the Bagpiper. There's a klezmorish spontaneity about this movement that may hearken back to the days when the composer and his father were a duo (piano and violin respectively) on the Warsaw Jewish theater circuit. Some closing virtuoso clarinet work and a final optimistic pronouncement from the strings end things on a positive note.
The names of cellist Claes Gunnarsson, flutist Anders Jonhäll and clarinetist Urban Claesson may not be that well known, but they certainly distinguish themselves here with excellent performances. Conductor Thord Svedlund and the Gothenberg Symphony Orchestra (also now known as the Swedish National Orchestra) provide enthusiastic support to all of the soloists.
The Chandos engineers have given us a hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0) disc that's definitely in the demonstration category. Recorded in the concert hall in Gothenberg, Sweden, which is an exceptionally fine venue, the CD and SACD stereo tracks project a totally convincing soundstage. The placement of each of the soloists as well as the balance between them and the orchestra is ideal, and the instrumental timbres are totally natural with no hint of any digital banshees. The multichannel track creates a most convincing virtual concert hall environment and will put you front-row-center. By the way, those not already familiar with them may want to explore some of Weinberg's symphonies, also available on Chandos (10128, 10237, 10334)
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y080808)
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Whiteman, Paul & Orch: Songs V1 (24, 1920-30s); B.Crosby et al/Whiteman O [Vocalion]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Whiteman, Paul & Orch: Songs V2 (24, 1920-30s); B.Crosby et al/Whiteman O [Vocalion]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Strictly speaking, the 1920s and '30s songs on these two discs are not "classical," but down through the years many of them have become "classics" in their own right. That’s particularly true of the versions performed here by Paul Whiteman (1890-1967) and his orchestra with an assist from a number of outstanding vocalists. Whiteman was a classically trained musician who began his career as a violinist with the San Francisco Symphony. Then in 1918 he formed his own dance band, and by 1920 had started recording for the Victor Talking Machine Company (remember that famous dog and horn logo). His records achieved wide popularity and in a few years he became known as "The King of Jazz." However, that epithet is a bit misleading, because the extended seat-of-the-pants improvisations and resulting structural informality that characterize most jazz recordings are not to be found on a Whiteman 78.
A highly trained musician as well as a perfectionist, his arrangements were classically inspired and beautifully orchestrated. Consequently he made some significant contributions to both the classical and popular music fields. In regard to the former, it was Whiteman and his orchestra (24-40 musicians) who originally championed George Gershwin's two rhapsodies and Ferde Grofé's Mississipi and Grand Canyon Suites (see the newsletter of 20 November 2006). In the popular genre, his arrangements might best be described as "concerto-like," because the instrumental soloists were only allowed to "jive" in fixed cadenzas that were subservient to the piece as a whole. And speaking of soloists, Whiteman had the best, which included such greats as Bix Beiderbecke (cornet), Bing Crosby (vocals), Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey (saxophone and trombone), Jack Fulton (trombone), Eddie Lang (guitar), Jack and Charlie Teagarden (trombone and trumpet), Frankie Trumbauer (saxophone), and Joe Venuti (violin).
Recorded between 1925 and 1938, the forty-eight songs on these CDs (twenty-four each) are exceptional for the diversity of songwriters and uniformly high standards of performance represented. Many selections included will be familiar to most, and may even cause the welling up of an occasional nostalgic tear. While there's not enough space to go into details about everything, here are some highlights you can look forward to. The original recording dates and CD tracks are given in brackets.
In the first volume there's "No Fooling" [1926; track-4], which was the title song for the 1926 Ziegfeld revue. "Louisiana" [1928; track-5] features four vocalists, one of whom is the twenty-five year old Bing Crosby (1903-1977). He also sings "Ol' Man River" and "Make Believe" [1928; tracks-7 & 11] from Jerome Kern's 1927 masterpiece Showboat. "There Ain't No Sweet Man...” [1928, track-8] counts Crosby among its vocalists, and has some spectacular cornet work by Bix Beiderbecke. Good examples of Paul's outstanding arrangements are the catchy “Who Do You Love?”, "I'll Always Remember You" [1927; tracks-9 & 10] and "My Lucky Star" [1929; track-16].
Two of the most infectious numbers here are "You Took Advantage of Me" and "Do I Hear You Saying..." [1928; tracks-11 & 12] from the Richard Rodgers 1928 Broadway show Present Arms. By the way, the former was originally sung by Joyce Barbour and an up-and-coming juvenile named Busby Berkeley (1895-1976, see the newsletter of 15 July 2008). In this version Bing is again one of the vocalists with Bix and Frankie Trumbauer providing some colorful cornet and sax ad libs. Up to this point you may not think that Crosby sounds quite like you remember him, but that crooner style of delivery so typical of his later years is very evident in the next two songs, "If I Had a Talking Picture of You" and "I'm A Dreamer..." [1929; tracks-14 & 15] from the 1929 Hollywood musical Sunny Side Up. There's also some fancy fiddling from Joe Venuti in the former.
In Blue Night [1928; track-18], "Old New England Moon" [1930; track-20], "Love in Bloom," which Jack Benny later took as his theme song, and "True" [1934; tracks-21 & 23], Jack Fulton hangs up his trombone and becomes the vocalist. It's remarkable how much he sounds like Rudy Vallee (1901-1988). Then, in keeping with Paul's background as a violinist, the disc closes with a fabulous rendition of "Japanese Sandman" [1938; track-24] performed by another of Whiteman’s bands known as "The Swinging Strings." But wait! There are even greater goodies in store for you on the second volume.
The first number on the next disc is the old standard "Makin' Whoopee" [1928; track-1] made famous by the legendary Eddie Cantor in the Broadway show (1928) and movie (1930), Whoopee. Once again Bing Crosby is among the vocalists doing the honors here as well as in "Orange Blossom Time" [1929; track-4], the ever popular "Side by Side" (probably better known as "We Ain't Got a Barrel of Money") [1927; track-5], "You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me" and "Livin' in the Sunlight..." (1930) [tracks-6 & 7]. Some may remember it was a suave Maurice Chevalier who sang the last two selections in the 1930 film The Big Pond. A couple of '30s classics, "Ah! But is it Love?" and "It's Only a Paper Moon" [1933, tracks-10 and 11], are next. The latter will bring back memories of Peter Bogdanovich's outstanding 1973 film set in the Great Depression Era.
And now for the pičce de résistance, two superb Whiteman renditions of some of the most endearing music to come out of those outrageously wonderful Hollywood musical extravaganzas directed by Busby Berkeley (see above). From Footlight Parade (1933) starring the irascible James Cagney along with Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell, there's "Sittin' on a Backyard Fence" and "Shanghai Lil" [1933; tracks-13 & 14]. More outstanding songs from other films follow with two gorgeous Sigmund Romberg (1885-1951) numbers: "When I Grow Too Old To Dream" and "The Night Is Young " [1934; tracks-15 and 16]. Then there are four of Cole Porter's finest: "I Get A Kick Out Of You," "You're The Top," "All Through The Night" as well as the title song [1934; tracks-19, 20, 21 & 22] from the his Broadway show (1934) and the Paramount movie (1936), Anything Goes. Just listen to Porter's lyrics! They're some of the wittiest ever written and made all the more biting by Whiteman's incisively clever arrangements. The disc then ends with two more silver screen gems, "Sugar Plum" and "Thanks A Million" [1935; tracks-23 & 24].
Everything here was digitally remastered by Michael J. Dutton, and what an incredible job he's done! There are other CDs with Whiteman recordings from this period, but nothing can even come close to the sound on these two Vocalion discs! While there's absolutely no hint of those nasty swishes, snaps and pops usually associated with 78s, the frequency response is amazingly wide ranging, with no sign of any degradation resulting from noise reduction. Those having home theater systems with sound field processing capabilities will find they can quite successfully recreate a stereo approximation of this music in a ballroom setting. The 1920s and '30s have never sounded better, and you'll find yourself singing "We're in the Money" when you hear these CDs.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080807, P080806)
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