It seems to me that I read somewhere – and I may be paraphrasing – that "Leroy Anderson was the most famous composer nobody ever heard of." That's a Yogi Berra statement if I ever heard one, and if I didn't read it, then I'm glad I wrote it, because it is one of those oxymoronic truisms that ring so, well…true. Whether the man and woman on the street realize it or not, they've heard Anderson's music on television as theme music for game shows or as background music for commercials, especially at Christmastime. And they hear it on the radio or while shopping at the supermarket or department store. Or they hear it at a Pops concert or a football game or wherever. He was the composer of what is now probably the most famous work associated with Christmas, Sleigh Ride. Other famous pieces are the leadoff one here, Bugler's Holiday, The Syncopated Clock and Plink, Plank, Plunk. All, plus several more on this disc, are instantly recognizable and irresistible favorites.
The one almost totally unfamiliar piece here is the one I like most, the Piano Concerto in C. Cast in three movements, the work is kind of a cross between Rachmaninoff and Richard Addinsell, of Warsaw Concerto fame. It is the only large orchestral work ever written by Anderson and one that he abandoned, thus consigning the work to oblivion after its first performances in 1953-54. He eventually developed plans to revise the piece but never got around to it.
The first movement of Anderson's concerto seems modeled on the opening panel of the Rachmaninoff Second. The music is lighter than Rachmaninoff's, of course, but is often reminiscent of it and features themes just as catchy, just as memorable – and I'm not exaggerating. The first movement features two quite outstanding themes, the second of which appears in the second and third movements in slightly different guises. There is an interesting central fugal episode in the opening movement that leads to the return of the chipper but stately main theme. The Rachmaninoffian second theme actually dominates the work and you're enchanted with each reappearance in the subsequent movements. The second movement actually has hints of Mahler(!), probably coincidentally. The finale's main theme is a mixture of Vaughan Williams and Copland.
At any rate, unless you want your Classical music on the serious side only, the Concerto is well worth your while, as are the other colorful gems on this disc. Jeffrey Biegel's performance is spirited and fully convincing, as is the conducting of the always reliable Leonard Slatkin. The BBC Concert Orchestra plays as if they have this obviously very America music coursing through their blood in all the music. Naxos' sound is excellent. Highly recommended.
Copyright © 2008, Robert Cummings