GLCD 5105 – The Golden Age of Light Music: Great American Light Orchestras
Music Notes By Chris Green
Just up the road from where I live there is a talented sound engineer. His name is Alan Bunting and together with series producer, David Ades, they have been responsible for compiling a never-ending stream of releases on the Swiss-based Guild label. The series is called The Golden Age of Light Music, and it profiles the wealth of music that was recorded, mainly between 1930 and 1960. This was the heyday of the 78rpm shellac release lasting between three and four minutes which certainly sharpened the talents of composers and arrangers. Filling a disc for that amount of time required the skill of being able to say what you wanted to say but in a style that was recognisable. The advent of the LP changed things, but so did the economic challenges of the Depression and the Second World War when major theatres had to cut their house orchestras in order to survive. The world of light music lost some talented ensembles who would have entertained audiences between films, or given concerts when the theatre was not showing films.
In short, there was an appetite for “light music” – how difficult it is to define what that kind of music is. The essential. ingredients are tunes, easy-on-the-ear harmonies and memorable arrangements, and the producer of the series has obviously had a field day in sourcing decent copies of the hundreds of titles that fill the many volumes issued by Guild Music. Many of them were recorded in the studio, but occasionally the sound recordists would venture into a theatre or cinema to record the music.
What I am going to do is to highlight just some of the releases, but for more information I recommend you go to the Guild website Guildmusic
I am particularly interested in music for films, and so a couple of essential albums are Light Music from the Silver Screen (GLCD 5109) which has 22 tracks each featuring a different film including Spring in Park Lane, The Magic Bow, Shane and The Band Wagon. It would be difficult to say which is a “classic” and which is not, but for durability Dancing in the Dark from the latter release still features in live programmes and reminds us of the great days when MGM musicals were eagerly awaited. British Cinema and Theatre Orchestras are recalled in another release (GLCD 5108). Most included here were London-based but the provinces were not necessarily to be outdone and whether it was Walthamstow or Coventry, there was a house band led by some big names of the time including Hyam Greenbaum and Geraldo. As with all the releases, there are excellent sleeve notes which give you much of the background information.
“Light music” was not necessarily an Anglo-Saxon invention, for there were talented composers in mainland Europe and some of their compositions turn up in arrangements in a third release, Lightly Classical (GLCD 5175). There are compositions by Claude Debussy and William Walton rubbing shoulders with Grieg, Stravinsky and Khachaturian. Sometimes the orchestra is reduced, and one has to remember that these tracks would often be the first exposure for someone to the world of light music and it would often be through hearing them played on the radio. Radio played a significant role in popularising melodies in Britain and the USA, and many of the orchestras featured in Great American Light Orchestras (GLCD 5105) were led by -composer-directors who achieved significant awards like Leroy Anderson, Andre Kostelanetz and Paul Whiteman. Some wrote material for the concert hall in more serious vein but they are included, such as Morton Gould and Meredith Willson.
So there we are: light music is making a comeback, and if you want a memorable tune presented with skill, Guild’s series is as good a place to start as anywhere.
International Record Review January 05
The second Guild disc also has many rare tracks and is equally recommendable; Leroy Anderson, Paul Whiteman, Morton Gould, David Rose (why doesn’t someone record his lovely Flute Concerto?), André Kostelanetz, Hugo Winterhalter and Victor Young – these names are a selection from the 26 tracks represented here, from 1939-53. My only complaint is that items 23 and 24 ought not to have been placed next to one another: the music (Dance of the Violins and Tic-Tac-Toe) is too similar. It is instructive to hear If You Are But a Dream, arranged from the music of Anton Rubinstein (!) – not the Melody in F – and Morton Gould’s version of Lecuona’s Andalucia (with the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra – i.e., the Philadelphia Orchestra. Morton Gould told me Ormandy himself played in the violin section on this track.) The transfers are excellent and notes by David Ades enhance both these CDs.
MusicWeb Friday September 03 04
The corresponding volume in this series devoted to British light orchestras sports an idyllic village cricket match, full of rolling acres and church spires. America gives us a diner with bright neon lights, coffee and a Danish and with just a hint of angst amidst the bagels. But all the big names are here from the opening salvo of “gusto personified” by Leroy Anderson and the luscious orchestration of genre maestro David Raksin’s The Bad and the Beautiful through to the final piece of portentous Gershwinesque concoction presided over by Paul Whiteman (whose Gershwinesque stripes had been well and honorably won).
These examples from the late 1940s and early 1950s pay testament to the high level of orchestration and execution in the bands of such as Rose, Gordon Jenkins and Victor Young. Richard Hayman’s massed fiddles certainly flaunt their prowess in No strings attached – ironic title – and we get some appropriately amusing genre writing in Brazilian Sleigh Bells, finely despatched by Percy Faith. Not everything goes so well; exotically named Acquaviva – crazy name, crazy guy – hams up Holiday in Rio and Morton Gould (surprisingly) disappoints with a clever-clever Sophisticated Lady whilst Monty Kelly is inclined to get treacly in Three o’clock in the morning. But the dance songs sway and drive and as ever Rose leads the way in descriptive-pictorial writing of an exalted level (try Satan and the Polar Bear for an unlikely sounding winner). If Gershwin animated Alter’s Manhattan Masquerade, the Whiteman band’s one outing on this disc, then Rachmaninov haunts the pocket piano concerto of Manhattan Serenade and elsewhere we can enjoy wordless vocals, guitar solos, pizzicato fizzers and subtly coloured writing – and some brash swagger as well.
Not having heard the originals it’s difficult to comment decisively on the transfers, the majority of which sound warm and pleasing. A few however sound a bit cramped – Paul Weston’s Rain in particular – which makes me wonder whether too much treble has been cut in the remastering. Otherwise, another warm welcome.
This is the fifth volume in Guild’s growing Light Music series that is dedicated to the immense tradition of the American Light Orchestra. There is a veritable treasure trove of recordings here with the main contenders being David Rose, Leroy Anderson, Percy Faith and the inimitable Andre Kostelanetz apart from several others who flew the flag for the genre throughout the United States.
I enjoyed this disc immensely from first note to last and with the fastidiously detailed notes by the indefatigable David Ades, the experience was an even more complete one. Morton Gould’s
arrangement of Duke Ellington’s ‘Sophisticated Lady’ was particularly effusive whilst the jaunty sounds of Kostelanetz’s ‘Manhattan Serenade’ and Monty Kelly’s ‘Tropicana’ certainly put me into a dancing mood. However it would be unfair to single out particular recordings for special praise as all are very much magical and quite ravishingly excellent. Acquaviva, Harry Horlick, David Carroll and Richard Hayman are also well represented here.
Guild’s Light Music series is shaping up quite well and one hopes for the classic recordings from Haydn Wood, Ernest Tomlinson, Robert Farnon, Charles Williams and other greats of this genre to have their own albums in this excellently produced series. Otherwise, another warm welcome for this collection; one that should go down extremely well with enthusiasts of the genre.
MusicWeb Wednesday July 21 04
This is the second disc in Guild’s ‘Golden Age’ series. The compilation is transfers from 78rpm records issued by major recording labels in the 1940s and 50s.
Many of the titles will not be readily known by readers under the age of 45, but in the forties and fifties the original records sold well in America. Herbert’s Toyland Waltz and Kern’s Smoke gets in Your Eyes are better known and are still played. Other titles, though, are not well known. Rose, Faith and Gould were popular arrangers of the time and are responsible for some of the adaptations that appear here. The majority of pieces were recorded by dance bands and would have been written to accompany hotel and ballroom dances.
Most of the recordings were made at the start of the tape recording era when some companies stuck rigidly to the direct cutting method until tape durability had been fully tested by the mid fifties. Although most of the titles would have been issued as singles, the LP came early to America and so it is likely that some like the pioneering Brunswick records would have been available in a dual format. Vinyl was also used as the pressing medium in these last days of the 78. Not only has Guild’s sound restoration and transfer of these 78s by Alan Bunting been excellent, with no background hiss or clicks and wide frequency range, but also the original recordings by Mercury, Columbia, Capitol, MGM and must be admired for their clarity.
For me a lot of the tracks contain recordings of a similar style, with repititious phrases and sections to the number and often lack a good melody line. Listeners of a younger generation may well react differently to those who are familiar with the music.
Raymond J Walker