Stokowski Conducts 20th Century Americana = Works of SHILKRET, GOULD & CRESTON – Guild

Conductor Stokowski’s dedication to American colorful scores finds an energetic testament on this release.

Stokowski Conducts 20th Century Americana = SHILKRET: Trombone Concerto; GOULD: Latin-American Symphonette; CRESTON: Saxophone Concerto, Op. 26 – Tommy Dorsey, trombone/ New York City Sym. Orch./ James Abato, sax/ Hollywood Bowl Sym. Orch./ Radio Italiana Orch. of Turin (Gould)/ Leopold Stokowski – Guild GHCD 2424, 64:57 (1/15/16) [Distr. by Albany] ****:

The bobby-soxers came out in noisy droves for the world premier of the Trombone Concerto by composer Nathaniel Shilkrtet (1889-1982), with popular band leader and instrumentalist Tommy Dorsey doing the solo part. The concert (15 February 1945) captures the creative personality of Shilkret, who had conducted the premier of Gershwin’s An American in Paris, and aspects of the same composer’s Concerto in F infiltrate the second movement of the Trombone Concerto. Stokowski has to chide twice the vociferous teenaged crowd to quiet down for the music to proceed. Shilkret quotes several popular tunes in his jazzy, flighty, pop style, like “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.” The trombone work proves slick and glossy, virtuosic in a glittery sense, like an Elvis Presley pelvis shake. Here, the musical allusions beckon to the Hollywood of Errol Flynn and Robert Donat. That Dorsey and Shilkret may have argued about a more substantial trombone part could explain the failure of the principals to bring the piece to a commercial recording.

Recorded 6 May 1955, Morton Gould’s Latin-American Symphonette (1933) actually made its only complete performance under Stokowski at this concert from Turin, its Italian premiere. The world debut had occurred in 1941 under Fritz Mahler, who would make recordings in Hartford, Connecticut. In four movements, the Symphonette intends to capture the Latin, often percussive, flavor of the dance – Rhumba, Tango, Guaracha, Conga – each having an immediate, colorful appeal. The suave, sensuous dances – particularly the second movement Tango – easily have our feet and hips set in motion, either in the Caribbean or Latin tropics. The colorful, chugging Guaracha movement had become a Stokowski staple as a popular encore, and his special affection shows through here in Turin. The primitive energy of the final Conga might conjure images of young Abbe Lane and Xavier Cugat in their dance-band heyday.

Paul Creston’s 1941 Saxophone Concerto had James Abato for its New York Philharmonic under William Steinberg in 1944. In three movements – Energetic, Meditative, Rhythmic – the piece in its West Coast premiere (26 August 1945) exhibits a natural fluency along with its more bravura colors for the instrument. The Energetic first movement powers forward with a drama slightly reminiscent of Lalo in his d minor Cello Concerto. Alternately declamatory and jazzily active, the solo exhibits the instrument’s flamboyant character when its bluesy persona exits. The brilliant coda brings early applause for Abato and Stokowski. The expansive Meditative movement proceeds in 5/4, allowing its sinuous flow a degree of rhythmic license. The muted strings add to the lyrical, hazy sensibility. Two strong cadenzas from Abato prove beguiling, the latter brief but serving as a long coda. Rhythmic demands unabashed, New Orleans bravura on Abato’s part, rife with curlicues and breathy runs. Abato’s baritone register sings out at the last, just as flamboyant and incensed as his prior tenor riffs. A real etude de bravura, the final bars bring applause and the orchestra strings’ tapping their professional approval.

Good mono sound throughout, despite the obvious wears of time.

—Gary Lemco

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