“American Chamber Music” of HERRMANN, COPLAND, GERSHWIN, AND WAXMAN [TrackList follows] – The Nash Ensemble – Hyperion CD A68094, 75:37 (6/9/15) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***1/2:
This CD from Hyperion is well played, and taken selection by selection, I like the music. As a program, I think the music is too wide in style to be a completely enjoyable experience played from top to bottom. The album theme is concert music by composers who also wrote film music. That’s a rich area to explore. Hermann, and Rozsa in particular, wrote some excellent concert music.
The CD starts with Bernard Herrmann’s Souvenirs de Voyage, written in 1967. Herrmann is best known, perhaps for writing the score for Citizen Kane, and several Hitchcock films, including Psycho. Later in his life he explored fantasy films, with brilliant scores for the 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts. He also dabbled in science fiction scores, with music for the original Day the Earth Stood Still and Fahrenheit 451.
The Souvenirs de Voyage for clarinet and string quartet is a lovely composition. After a few notes, it was clearly Herrmann, who always speaks in a unique voice. Richard Gosford’s clarinet is plaintive, and the piece is a fine one.
The program moves on to Gershwin’s Songbook, written in 1932. It’s at this point the disc takes a stylistic turn that simply doesn’t match the mood of the Herrmann. This work is the only one on the disc for unaccompanied piano, making it another bad thematic choice. The Gershwin is certainly well played, and might have been better done on a separate disc with other similar music.
We are back to more fitting music from Franz Waxman. Waxman was a talented composer of film scores in the movies golden age. I think his best was Taras Bulba, an exciting score for a forgettable film, and Bride of Frankenstein was a stunning composition. Here we get the classical Waxman, with Four Scenes from Childhood, written in 1948. It’s written for violin and piano and the soloists are precise and the music is heartfelt.
Then another unwelcome change of pace as we go back to Gerswin, this time Promenade, written for Shall We Dance, and the unrelated Lullaby for String Quartet written in 1920. The Promenade is a mood breaker to my ear, the Lullaby is more in keeping with the rest of the presentation.
Finally, we hear Aaron Copland’s Waltz and Celebration from Billy the Kid, for cello and piano. This is probably the most familiar work on the disc. I’m used to hearing these works with a full orchestra, but the musicians are fine here, and I enjoyed hearing this familiar piece in this form.
The playing by all the musicians in attendance is of the highest musical quality. The recording is quite good, with an intimate and liquid sound from the instruments.
My only quibble, and it’s not a minor one, is the overall presentation is too wrenching, the chief culprit being the Gershwin. It just feels sandwiched in to music that it just doesn’t fit with.
[And here is our review of the hi-res version of this CD…Ed.]
1-3 Herrmann: Souvenirs de voyage for clarinet and string quartet
4-21 George Gershwin: Song-book for solo piano, arranged by the composer
22-25 Waxman: Four scenes from childhood for violin and piano
26 Gershwin: Promenade ‘Walking the dog’ for clarinet and piano, arr Wakefield
27 Gershwin: Lullaby for string quartet
28-29 Copland: Waltz and Celebration from Billy the Kid for cello and piano