Ormandy conducts American Light Music = HERBERT: Pan American; American Rhapsody; Irish Rhapsody; Naughty Marietta–selections; The Fortune Teller–selections; HERSHEY KAY: Cakewalk – Ballet Suite – The Philadelphia Orch./Eugene Ormandy – Pristine Audio PASC 356, 69:10 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
Record producer and restoration engineer Mark Obert-Thorn fulfills one of my dream-list Eugene Ormandy reissues with this suave splicing of two significant 1952 CBS LPs, the Victor Herbert collection (ML 5376) and the Hershey Kay Cakewalk Ballet, arranged from the music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (ML 4616). Eugene Ormandy (1899-1985) pursued his interest in musical Americana throughout his recording history, perhaps advocating a kind of jingoistic celebration of his adopted country. (Another Hungarian émigré, actor Bela Lugosi, expressed the same popular patriotism, cherishing Rhapsody in Blue and the Grand Canyon Suite as his preferred music.)
Victor Herbert (1859-1924), himself an Irish patriot, cellist, and composer, combined several careers that embraced his own cello virtuosity, conducting, and operetta compositions. Arranger Otto Langey set both Pan American and The Fortune Teller for orchestral dissemination, and Ormandy sets forth into the former with a distinct Hungarian panache, the Philadelphia Sound ablaze. The eclectic orchestration combines horn riffs with winds and castanets while the strings evoke a samba rhythm. The American Rhapsody tries to embrace our several regions, including Stephen Foster’s Old Folks at Home in sentimental dress to rival Dvorak’s “Goin’ Home,” various military tattoos, and a solid rendition of Dixie. With Columbia, Gem of the Ocean and The Star-Spangled Banner we reach a pinnacle for Old Glory and the far reaches of your audio equipment.
If Leroy Anderson’s Irish Suite remains my first choice for Saint Patrick’s Day music, then Herbert’s Irish Rhapsody comes in second. What make the Ormandy version delicious are the Philadelphia strings, harp, cymbals, tympani, and the phrasing of the sentiments. Hornpipes, reels, and gigs abound, and a good jug might suit this portion of the CD. I can’t play these suites without thinking of one of my favorite John Ford films, The Quiet Man. The rousing ending might inspire you to revisit Raoul Walsh’s They Died with Their Boots On. Harold Sanford arranged extracts from Naughty Marietta, with its superstar song, “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life.” The Fortune Teller (arr. Langey), I think, offers a better and lusher score, given its Viennese and Magyar colors and hints of Johann Strauss waltz virtuosity.
The 1951 ballet Cakewalk, composed for the New York City Ballet by Hershey Kay, takes twelve of Gottschalk piano pieces like Bamboula, Pasquinade, and The Banjo (aka “Freebee” in the ballet) to create a lively and colorful divertissement and minstrel show in three sections. Some may recall that Hershey Kay took some of the same composition lessons in classes with Leonard Bernstein. That Kay’s score also parodies aspects of German military music and Stravinsky’s Petrushka only cause us to admire more his cosmopolitan style. But the real hero remains Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869), that Creole piano sensation whose gift for rhythm and Louisiana harmony who might well qualify as America’s first full-fledged musical genius. First-rate irresistible fun, this disc.
Kubelik soars, in response to the “Prague Spring” of 1968…