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Musical Quintessence

Orchestral music by
Leroy Anderson -
reviewed by

'... immediately appealing melodies ...'

American Classics: Leroy Anderson: Orchestral Music 3. © 2008 Naxos Rights International Ltd

'Plink, Plank, Plunk!?' Could it be yet another composer of random notes and sounds? Far from it. Instead it is the work of a composer without an atonal or serial bone in his body. Leroy Anderson is in some ways an American version of Eric Coates. They wrote a profusion of immediately appealing melodies, were gifted orchestrators, had an active sense of humor, and were more painstaking craftsmen than many realize.

Knowing how seriously the British take their light classical music, I'll end the comparison there rather than further running the risk of possible controversy. Anderson produced miniatures almost exclusively, and sometimes in intentionally doubtful taste. Only one of the eighteen pieces on this release lasts longer than five minutes. Several feature unexpected instruments such as cow bells, barking dogs, screeching ducks, typewriters, three grades of sand paper, and more. Not all rise above the equivalent of old vaudeville novelty acts. Though perhaps fun to hear once, I will take a miss on future performances of Anderson's variations on Old MacDonald Had a Farm.

But aah, some of the others! Anderson could distill an idea into its musical quintessence.

On this latest volume of the Naxos survey of his orchestral music we have such gems as The Penny Whistle Song, Promenade, The Phantom Regiment, and, yes, the jaunty pizzicato of Plink, Plank, Plunk.

Here's a bit of the latter:

Listen -- Leroy Anderson: Plink, Plank, Plunk
(track 6, 0:00-0:45) © 2008 Naxos Rights International Ltd

And here is one of his most ravishing melodies:

Listen -- Leroy Anderson: Serenata
(track 10, 0:42-1:49) © 2008 Naxos Rights International Ltd

If you're after completeness, it appears that Naxos will have the field, as we might expect. They've said the series will contain all of Anderson's orchestral music. The first three volumes already include many pieces never or rarely recorded (including an enjoyable piano concerto in volume 1). But that hardly ends the discussion because almost all of Anderson's most popular pieces appear in an old MCA Classics two-disk set with Anderson conducting. The sound isn't nearly as good, nor does the ensemble quite match the polish of the BBC Concert Orchestra, but there's an appealing vigor in the composer's conducting. He almost always takes a faster tempo than Slatkin and places greater emphasis on dynamics and underlying rhythmic drive. Serenata, excerpted above, is an exception, and so the newer recording is preferable because of improved sound. On the other hand, Anderson is superior on the almost equally well known Saraband because Slatkin's version is just too smooth and sedate.

Listen -- Leroy Anderson: Saraband
(track 9, 0:00-1:01) © 2008 Naxos Rights International Ltd

So which would I recommend? I hope I've given lovers of light classics enough information to make up their own minds. I've had a soft spot for Anderson since I first heard The Syncopated Clock on television many years ago. I already have the attractively priced MCA set, but I know I'll be acquiring the entire Naxos series because of the superior sound and pieces that aren't otherwise available. If you'd like to try just one of the newer disks, Volume 1 is the best so far. The most recent release, Volume 3, is a close second.

Since this review is being written in July, the last excerpt will, coolingly, be Anderson's best known piece. It's another in which Slatkin holds his own.

Listen -- Leroy Anderson: Sleigh Ride
(track 13, 1:54-2:39) © 2008 Naxos Rights International Ltd

Copyright © 27 July 2008 Ron Bierman, San Diego, USA


Leroy Anderson: Orchestral Music 3

8.559357 DDD Stereo NEW RELEASE 61'49" 2008 Naxos Rights International Ltd

Alasdair Malloy, solo typewriter; Catherine Moore, solo trumpet; BBC Concert Orchestra; Leonard Slatkin, conductor

Leroy Anderson (1908-1975): Harvard Sketches (Lowell House Bells - Freshman in Harvard Square - Widener Reading Room - Class Day Confetti Battle) (1939); Melody on Two Notes (1966); Mother's Whistler (1940); The Penny Whistle Song (1951); The Phantom Regiment (1951); Plink, Plank, Plunk! (1951); Promenade (1951); Sandpaper Ballet (1954); Saraband (1948); Serenata (1947); Old MacDonald Had a Farm (1947); Willson, arranged Leroy Anderson: Seventy-Six Trombones (1958); Leroy Anderson: Sleigh Ride (1948); Suite of Carols for Brass Choir (1955); Gershwin, arranged Anderson: Wintergreen for President (1932); Leroy Anderson: The Typewriter (1950); A Trumpeter's Lullaby (1949); The Syncopated Clock (1945)


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