Reviews

GHCD 2424 – Leopold Stokowski – 20th Century Americana 1945 & 1955

Tommy Dorsey (trombone), New York City Symphony Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Radio Italiana orchestra of Turin, Leopold Stokowski (conductor)

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MusicWeb International / July 2016

Guild, aided and abetted by Edward Johnson and his matchless audio collection, continue the dedicated tilling of Stokowski’s radio work. They could not do it as well as they have without the science and alchemy of Colchester’s Peter Reynolds. The sound throughout is much better than I had expected. Listening is not an arduous experience.

These three works are culled, as you can see, from a miscellany of broadcasts, one of them presumably courtesy of Italian Radio. The inclusion of separately tracked announcements and applause adds a sense of history frozen in time.

The Shilkret Trombone Concerto is a fascinating novelty with Dorsey treated like celebrity Royalty – even more so than the martinet Stokowski who cracks the whip over the audience: “The concert ends now unless you are quiet”. The trombone’s Hollywood tone delights those attending who presumably were there because of Dorsey; a mainstream classical audience they are not. They whistle and applaud at the end of the first movement and there’s rapturous uproar at the end. This luxuriant three movement work smooches and croons in a way that evokes Sinatra and Steiner with the resonance of the hall seemingly well caught. The middle movement is influenced by Gershwin and the finale (Bright Boogie Woogie) is a jazzy swerve of a piece. There’s an audio crackle at 8.20 in the first movement but it’s momentary.

Shilkret crops up in many guises in US musical life often as conductor as in the case of the 1928 RCA recording of Gershwin’s An American in Paris with the Victor Symphony Orchestra; Gershwin himself played the celesta on that occasion. He is Mischa Elman’s conductor in Tchaikovsky’s Sérénade Mélancolique. I suspect there is much more to know about Elman as composer but you can sample his work in the first movement of the Genesis Suite as recorded by Naxos and Pristine.

If Shilkret and others such as that prolific symphonist Don Gillis, Ferde Grofé and Harl Macdonald (review review) did well in an area that moved seamlessly between classical, film, popular and jazz then so did the multi-talented Morton Gould. His vibrantly coloured Latin-American Symphonette is the fourth of his four Symphonettes. His resinous and highly spiced writing includes a final Conga which is a stomping shindig. I also detect in the work’s exuberant complexity that Gould had learnt from the success of Villa-Lobos in North America. I should add that Gould as conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has recently been celebrated with his own boxed set of 6 CDs from RCA Red Seal (88875120702).

Paul Creston’s music is well worth exploring. There are plenty of Creston reviews to delve through on this site. He wrote symphonies and many concertos and was a notable teacher whose pupils included John Corigliano. The saxophone caught his imagination. In addition to this wartime Concerto he wrote a suite (1935) and a Rapsodie; the latter for none other than Jean-Marie Londeix. I was introduced to the Creston Sax Concerto by a 1975 radio broadcast in which the soloist was Harvey Pittel with the San Jose Symphony Orchestra conducted by George Cleve. Abbato/Stokowski present the work with greater immediacy and brilliance than the slightly more reflective Pittel and Cleve. As represented here the three movements trace a line through the furiously energetic ways of a capricious yet charming jackanapes (I) to lyrical romantic (II) to a flashy gallic sprint that is a shade too showy for its own good (III). That said, the performance rallies at 1.53 in the finale and all the stops are pulled out for a gift of a melody. Creston was good that this sort of thing.

Abato (1919-2008) has rather merged into the background since his 1975 Nonesuch LP (H-1030) of the Saxophone concertos by Glazunov and Ibert; itself a reissue. He was professor of the instrument at the Juilliard and played in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in Porgy and Bess and Lulu. It seems that he also recorded Creston’s Saxophone Sonata. The saxophone was not his first instrument; you would never know from this evidence.

The liner notes hold the attention and are fulsome and affluent in factual references. They are by Guild regular Robert Matthew-Walker whose chamber music is sampled in the recent Guild GMCD7423.

In summary then: two unusual concertos and a Symphonette, the latter and the Shilkret having a popular emphasis. This represents more evidence of Stokowski’s catholic tastes in presenting premieres.

Rob Barnett

Audiophile Audition / February 11, 2016

The bobby-soxers came out in noisy droves for the world premier of the Trombone Concerto by composer Nathaniel Shilkrtet (1889-1982), with popular band leader and instrumentalist Tommy Dorsey doing the solo part. The concert (15 February 1945) captures the creative personality of Shilkret, who had conducted the premier of Gershwin’s An American in Paris, and aspects of the same composer’s Concerto in F infiltrate the second movement of the Trombone Concerto. Stokowski has to chide twice the vociferous teenaged crowd to quiet down for the music to proceed. Shilkret quotes several popular tunes in his jazzy, flighty, pop style, like “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.” The trombone work proves slick and glossy, virtuosic in a glittery sense, like an Elvis Presley pelvis shake. Here, the musical allusions beckon to the Hollywood of Errol Flynn and Robert Donat. That Dorsey and Shilkret may have argued about a more substantial trombone part could explain the failure of the principals to bring the piece to a commercial recording.
Recorded 6 May 1955, Morton Gould’s Latin-American Symphonette (1933) actually made its only complete performance under Stokowski at this concert from Turin, its Italian premiere. The world debut had occurred in 1941 under Fritz Mahler, who would make recordings in Hartford, Connecticut. In four movements, the Symphonette intends to capture the Latin, often percussive, flavor of the dance – Rhumba, Tango, Guaracha, Conga – each having an immediate, colorful appeal. The suave, sensuous dances – particularly the second movement Tango – easily have our feet and hips set in motion, either in the Caribbean or Latin tropics. The colorful, chugging Guaracha movement had become a Stokowski staple as a popular encore, and his special affection shows through here in Turin. The primitive energy of the final Conga might conjure images of young Abbe Lane and Xavier Cugat in their dance-band heyday.
Paul Creston’s 1941 Saxophone Concerto had James Abato for its New York Philharmonic under William Steinberg in 1944. In three movements – Energetic, Meditative, Rhythmic – the piece in its West Coast premiere (26 August 1945) exhibits a natural fluency along with its more bravura colors for the instrument. The Energetic first movement powers forward with a drama slightly reminiscent of Lalo in his d minor Cello Concerto. Alternately declamatory and jazzily active, the solo exhibits the instrument’s flamboyant character when its bluesy persona exits. The brilliant coda brings early applause for Abato and Stokowski. The expansive Meditative movement proceeds in 5/4, allowing its sinuous flow a degree of rhythmic license. The muted strings add to the lyrical, hazy sensibility. Two strong cadenzas from Abato prove beguiling, the latter brief but serving as a long coda. Rhythmic demands unabashed, New Orleans bravura on Abato’s part, rife with curlicues and breathy runs. Abato’s baritone register sings out at the last, just as flamboyant and incensed as his prior tenor riffs. A real etude de bravura, the final bars bring applause and the orchestra strings’ tapping their professional approval.
Good mono sound throughout, despite the obvious wears of time.
Gary Lemco