Whither the Pops concert? Orchestras still program them, but as popular music changes, so does the composition of the typical Pops concert. Furthermore, these concerts tend to be programmed with a regional consciousness: American Pops concerts focus on American music, English Pops concerts focus on English music, and so on. As a result, much worthwhile "popular" music falls in the cracks as one moves along in time and space.
Consider the contents of this Frederick Fennell CD. When was the last time that you heard Giovanni Bolzoni's Minuet, Edward German's Henry VIII Dances, or Arthur Benjamin's Cotillon Suite ? (Yes, that's the way Benjamin spells it.) Modern American orchestras are unlikely to program these tidbits for their Pops series simply because these tidbits are no longer popular. It's partly a question of conductors and artistic administrators not knowing this music, and it's partly a question of economics: name recognition is important in classical music, just as it is everywhere else.
This reissue shows us some of the things that we've been missing recently as the Pops concert has evolved, particularly in America. The works by Bolzoni, German, and Benjamin are smooth treats and nicely-aged – in my mind, I can almost hear the comforting hiss of a 78-rpm record accompanying them on a Saturday afternoon. This CD also includes short works that still are in the repertoire, such as the "Dance of the Russian Sailors" from Glière's The Red Poppy and the waltz-pantomime (given in its entirety here) from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel. Fennell and his two lusty orchestras sound overjoyed to be playing this music. Rhythms snap like twigs on cold day in winter, but the sunny melodies keep the mood cheerful and warm. For example, listen to the "Aragonaise" from Massenet's Le Cid for a lesson on how to phrase and shape even the tritest tune into something that's infectious. If you want probably intentional vulgarity, try the uncredited orchestration (I don't think it's Lucien Caillet's) of Rachmaninoff's Prélude in G minor – it's perfect for Liza on the ice.
The Eastman selections were taped in 1959, and the London selections were taped in 1965 and have better sound. The popovers pictured on the cover look as delicious; the popovers inside sound delicious too.
Copyright © 1996, Raymond Tuttle