New Classical Tracks: Revisiting a master of light musicby Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
Even people who don't know Leroy Anderson's name recognize the standards that he composed, such as "Sleigh Ride" and "Blue Tango." The Naxos label is marking his centennial by bringing out his complete orchestral music, conducted by no less than Leonard Slatkin.
St. Paul, Minn. — "Sleigh Ride" - that's what I think of when American composer Leroy Anderson comes to mind. Last year, that song beat out "White Christmas" as the most-played holiday selection on American radio stations.
The clip-clop of the horses and the cracking of the whip are good examples of Anderson's clever use of sound effects in his music.
He demonstrates his creativity again in "The Typewriter," which allows this antiquated piece of office equipment to live in perpetuity. Remember "The Syncopated Clock?" Here Anderson demonstrated his dry wit as woodblocks tick away, sometimes on the wrong beats.
It's time to pay tribute to this popular American composer, who was born 100 years ago on June 29 in Cambridge, Mass.
To celebrate his centenary, Leonard Slatkin has recorded all of Leroy Anderson's works with the BBC Concert Orchestra. Each of the five recordings will be released separately. The first volume in this collection features several old favorites, and a rarely heard piano concerto in C major.
Leroy Anderson carved a niche for himself by composing delightful miniatures for pops orchestras. As a graduate student, Anderson became director of the band at Harvard University.
His witty arrangements for the band caught the ear of the director of the Boston Pops Orchestra, Arthur Fiedler. Fiedler encouraged Anderson to write original compositions for the Boston Pops.
Anderson cranked out one hit after another, including, "Fiddle Faddle," written in 1947 to showcase the Boston Pops string section. Anderson played off the idea of Paganini's "Perpetual Motion" for this frenzied showpiece. "Bugler's Holiday" is kind of a sequel to "Fiddle Faddle."
The three-part trumpet writing is a display piece for trumpet players everywhere. Trumpeters Catherine Moore, David McCallum and John Blackshaw savor the quick tempo, and the expressive range of dynamics in this performance.
When Anderson's second Decca recording came out in 1951, "Belle of the Ball" and "Blue Tango" were taken from the LP and paired back to back on a single. Much to everyone's surprise, "Blue Tango," with its graceful tune and spicy rhythm, grabbed the American public, soaring to No. 1 on the hit parade for 15 weeks in 1952.
Volume 1 of Anderson's orchestral music closes out with Anderson's only piano concerto, written in 1953. Mixed reviews caused the composer to remove the concerto from his list of compositions in 1970.
Anderson's widow released the work in 1989. Pianist Jeffrey Biegel immediately became a strong advocate of the concerto. In 1991, he approached the composer's family about performing, and eventually recording it.
The sweeping melodic line and the lush orchestration of the first movement remind me of Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto. The first movement flows seamlessly into the slow andante, which shifts between two completely different moods.
The first subject is tender and contemplative, while the second subject sparkles with a driving rhythm, and added highlights from the wind section.
What makes the percussive third movement so appealing is its playful melody. The infectious interplay between pianist Jeffrey Biegel and the BBC Concert Orchestra is absolutely delightful.
Leroy Anderson was a Harvard-trained classical composer, whose curiosity provided him with the instinct to create something that was uniquely his. Writing for the technology of his time, he composed pieces that fit perfectly on a 45 rpm record.
Now those little gems, along with several that were never before recorded, are part of his complete collection of orchestral works, just in time for his centennial celebration.