It occurred to me that although Leroy Anderson is one of the most popular American composers, his music appears rather infrequently in the concert hall, and then usually in pops concerts. Moreover, relatively few recordings devoted entirely to his music have been issued over the years. He seems to have become the king of background music, though: at Christmastime, you hear that ubiquitous Sleigh Ride playing while you shop at the mall or grocery store; at football games and school events you'll hear band arrangements of some of his more popular pieces; and on television and radio you often hear Anderson's music serve as background music to a program or commercial.
That's why this Naxos series is so valuable to the Anderson enthusiast, and to almost anyone interested in light classical music. This, the second volume in the series, contains some real gems: The Waltzing Cat (1950), Home Stretch (1962) and Lullaby of the Drums (1970), the latter billed here as a world première recording. Of course, there are the two hit numbers from early in his career Jazz Pizzicato and Jazz Legato, both dating to 1938. Most of these and the other numbers on the disc contain Anderson's trademark orchestral touches, from the clattery, rhythmic percussive effects, heard in Horse and Buggy (1951) and Home Stretch to the swoops and whistles, heard in The Waltzing Cat and March of the Two Left Feet (1970).
But amid all this colorful stuff there is the relatively somber arrangement of the Handel number from Semele. Here we are presented with a more serious Anderson, wherein most listeners unfamiliar with the piece would not likely guess the composer of it. The closing item, Suite of Carols, is a charming work running more than twelve minutes, and once again showing Anderson in a slightly more serious mood. The listener will recognize many of the tunes used here, including It Came Upon a Winter Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem and Away in a Manger.
The sound on the disc is vivid, and as expected Leonard Slatkin draws fine performances from the BBC Concert Orchestra. Like the first issue in this series, this disc can be highly recommended.
Copyright © 2008, Robert Cummings