Piano Concerto; The Typewriter; Sleigh Ride; Blue Tango: The Syncopated Clock; Chicken Reel; Fiddle Faddle et al
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra: Paul Mann (conductor)
Simon Tedeschi (piano)
ABC Classics 476 158-9
reviewed by Neville Cohn
Millions around the world are familiar with the music of Leroy Anderson without necessarily knowing his name. And for much of the 1950s, when his music was at the height of its popularity, Anderson made a fortune from performing royalties.
And as eminent Australian-born, now USA-based, art critic Robert Hughes has pointed out, Anderson’s music became as much a part of the national consciousness of the USA as Norman Rockwell’s cover illustrations for the now defunct Saturday Evening Post.
His engaging music, for the most part, has never lost its popularity; it is still frequently heard, mainly on radio. And just as the SEP brought Rockwell huge fame, so, for Anderson, did the Boston Pops Orchestra which, under Arthur Fiedler’s direction, gave innumerable performances of his music – and placed a good deal of it on gramophone records that sold in huge quantities.
While Anderson was a student at Harvard, his teachers included George Enescu; he flourished under the older man’s guidance. Versatile as well as gifted, Anderson played organ, piano, tuba, trombone and double bass.
After being ‘discovered’ by Fiedler in the 1930s, Anderson was invited to write a piece for the Boston Pops annual Harvard Night performance. Jazz Pizzicato was the result and the rest, as they say, is history. Anderson never looked back, leaving the world a precious legacy of orchestral delights, music that is unfailingly sunny and optimistic, miniatures without a trace of sadness, regret, violence or anxiety.
His music has worn well; his pieces sound as fresh and engaging as they ever did. Who over the age of, say, 60 years, can listen to delights such as The Typewriter or Blue Tango without experiencing a rush of nostalgia?
Anderson was at his most effective as a miniaturist, turning out a stream of short pieces, like the delightful Waltzing Cat or Bugler’s Holiday, compact compositions that lodged as much in the heart as the mind of legions of listeners. They defined an era.
But that sure touch was absent when Anderson embarked on larger scale works. His Piano Concerto in C lacks the magic of his miniatures – and not even the very considerable virtuosity of soloist Simon Tedeschi can disguise the inherent dullness of the concerto. Interestingly, a musical, Goldilocks, ran for 169 performances on Broadway even though the critics clobbered it.
Conductor Paul Mann, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the recording engineers have together produced one of ABC Classics most charming and engaging issues in some time.
Copyright 2004 Neville Cohn