Stravinsky once famously said, and I'm paraphrasing, that there was more music in Verdi's rousing aria La donna e mobile than in the entire Wagner Ring cycle. While I can't exactly agree with that, I get his point, and listening to CDs like this excellent pair containing various Anderson selections tempts me to make some such Olympian statement. I mean, when I'm listening to a long-winded, supposedly profound symphony by Mahler or Bruckner, I sometimes wonder if light music of this quality isn't equally worthy of attention.
The Irish Suite leads off volume 4 in the splendid ongoing Naxos/Anderson series here and it is an absolute delight. The work is in six movements, each panel using a famous Irish song as a springboard: The Irish Washerwoman, The Minstrel Boy, The Girl I left Behind and three others. Anderson's orchestration is consistently colorful, masterly and full of wit. The whole thing brims with joy and infectious tunes.
The Scottish Suite is similar in structure and mood, but perhaps a little less compelling. Comprised of four movements, each based on a Scottish song (Bonnie Dundee, The Campbells are Coming, etc.), it is also well crafted music that will appeal to aficionados of light music (and to some serious listeners willing to break free of their preferred genre now and then).
A Christmas Festival is another suite using famous tunes, including Joy to The World, Silent Night, Deck the Halls and others. Again, the arrangement is brilliantly conceived and an utter joy to hear.
The MacDowell arrangement, To a Wild Rose (the original was written for piano), is fairly straightforward in its simple charms. Blue Tango, Forgotten Dreams and Belle of the Ball are all vocal versions of better known orchestral miniatures fashioned with lyrics by Mitchell Parish. The vocal soloists, Kim Criswell and William Dazeley, are fine. Leonard Slatkin draws superb performances from the BBC Concert Orchestra throughout and the Naxos sound is excellent. All in all, this is a fine disc.
The ensuing volume is nearly as good. Anderson's one completed musical, Goldilocks (1958), is the source for the sizable collection of excerpts here. The music is good, but perhaps a cut below the best efforts of the 1950s by Leonard Bernstein, Richard Rogers and other stalwarts of the genre. Still, though the musical had limited success, the music itself had always attracted attention. Again, Criswell and Dazeley turn in fine work in their numbers. Slatkin and the BBC CO play the music with spirit and total commitment. Once again, the sound is superb.
I should mention that the Suite of Carols on this disc is the woodwind version of a piece that exists in two other editions, for strings and for brass. The string version appeared in volume 2 of the series and, like this effort, is comparatively subdued and respectful of the source music. That is, Anderson presents this Christmas music with all its religious implications intact. In any event, both volumes 4 and 5 are highly recommended.
Copyright © 2008, Robert Cummings