Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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FERDE GROFÉ (1892-1972) Mississippi Suite (1926) [13.35 ] Grand Canyon Suite (1931) [32.00 ] Niagara Falls Suite (1961) [22.11] Bournemouth SO/William T Stromberg recorded Poole, 27-28 July 1998 NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559007 [67.45]

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Grofé, if known to us at all, is best remembered as the orchestrator of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Some may know him from the Ormandy-conducted CBS version of the Grand Canyon Suite. As for Grofé's music it is better described as picturesque rather than light. These are musical postcards with an occasional and sometimes disconcerting infusion of popular music.

The Mississippi Suite's Father of Waters is a slow, gentle, warm, rocking, lilting sunrise interrupted by a marionettes' dance ... but in iron shod boots. The Huck Finn second movement strolls along carefree but the gross stupidity of Grofé's swanee whistles will grate with many. The brass let rip with some fruity raspberries and all dissolves into a Grand bamboula type dance. This is done with savage style by the Bournemouth players. Old Creole Days is a slow and tender serenade for rocking strings: lovely throughout and well worth extracting for CLASSIC FM in the UK. Mardi Gras is the final movement with minstrel street corner songs and dances and even a touch (or ten) of I Got Rhythm. We are treated to a big swaying jazzy conclusion.

Sunrise from Grand Canyon Suite is announced by a drum roll, high strings and bird song. The swooping woodwind aid a climax-building dawn-rise of impassioned strings. The whole is wonderfully swung by Stromberg and the movement escapes into a wild climax lit with sunburst grandeur. The Painted Desert is rather reminiscent of Roussel's Evocations. The harp accompanied music suggests the fountain sequence and serenade from Delius's Hassan. On The Trail has a vaudeville climax that simply undermines the suite. Composure is regained in the happy and contentedly Delian Sunset. Finally Cloudburst brings things to an impressive pass with strange tonalities bubbling up and piano roulades darting to the heights and depths. I wonder if Britten heard this during his stay in USA. The Sea Interludes from Grimes might well have had some debt to this piece.

A decade or so before his death Grofe wrote a Niagara Suite. The Thunder Of Waters is grand but mixed in with the eddies and giant currents are some red indian colours. The Devil's Hole Massacre is all gloom and threat developing into a grand and imposing slaughterous uproar. Honeymooners seems to look back to 1900s or even 1890s: all very demure with little warmth or passion. Pot plants, hotel flunkies and gleaming marble. A flat and tepid glass and the one disappointing movement among the three. Charm and nothing else to sustain its 4:25. To end the whole disc Power Of Niagara (the longest movement at almost ten minutes) takes us back to the thunderous waters. It has something of Mossolov's Zavod or Iron Foundry. The rushing overwhelming power and genuine convulsive inspiration is well caught in accents which sound strangely Russian and even give us the Varèse treatment with a howling siren and a riverboat horn.

Great notes in scholarly and readable detail by series consultants Victor and Marina A Ledin. These are in English, French and German. The cover art is a painting of Niagara (18.57) by Frederic Edwin Church.

Warmly recommended for great performances of these picturesque though not necessarily light pieces. They can be grouped more naturally with Delius's Florida Suite than with Leroy Anderson's populist essays. The occasional weird lapses and juxtapositions can be forgiven: they occupy less than 5% of the playing time and as for the performances they are excellent.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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